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

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

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

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

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

Then….

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

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

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

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

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

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(Busy)

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

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

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

Heaton Hops Thirst Class

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

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

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

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

(Downstairs)

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

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

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

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

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

All in all – a result.

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

Tune

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

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

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

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

One of the greatest bands. Period.

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

Slainte!

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

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

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

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

(“Flag Day” – The Housemartins)

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

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

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

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

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The New Oxford, Bexley Square, Salford

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Micro Bar, Manchester Arndale Market

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

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

We move on….

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

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

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

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(Another Beer Festival? If you insist!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On that note….’til next time.

Slainte!

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2015 – My “Dance Card” Dozen

Next week is the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2015 – Are you going? If it’s anything like last year, it’s going to be special!

The Velodrome is a simply iconic venue, allied to great beers. LOTS OF GREAT BEERS! An almost overwhelming choice with beers from all over the UK and a huge selection of quality beers just from the North for little old me to amuse myself with!

From nearly 450 casks alone (Not to mention Ciders and the “foreign” beer bar), picking my personal “Dance Card” is going to be really difficult, but I’m going to give it a shot. Here goes…..

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Imperial Buckwheat StoutQuantum (Stockport) – 8.5% abvImperial Stout. At 8.5% abv, this is going to be a gentle waltz rather than a furious Can Can, but I just have to try it. A dark as sin Imperial Stout with all of the creamyness of Buckwheat. Fermented using Boddingtons yeast and inoculated with Brettanomyces, this is a beer I have looked forward to since we finished stirring the mash. A mash that was even THICKER than Katie Hopkins! This will be the first time that it is served in public. I can’t wait!

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Coconut, Macadamia & Lime PorterAllgates (Wigan) 4.6% abvPorter – One of Allgates “Limited Edition” beers that I’m yet to try on cask and inspired by a cake enjoyed in a Kirkby Lonsdale tea shop! I had a mini-cask of this at Xmas and it was beautiful , smooth & nutty from the toasted coconut and creamy macadamia. The lime element is very subtle and provides a tint of lightness in the dark.

Mallinsons

Experimental CitranellMallinsons (Huddersfield) – 4.2% abvPale Ale – For me, Mallinsons just nail low to mid strength Pale Ales. In this regard they have few equals. With Exp 366, Citra & Centennial hops, this already has my mouth watering!

 

PsychedelicHebden Bridge (Er…Hebden Bridge!) – 5% abvPale Ale – An American style Pale ale just LOADED with 5 Citrus fruits. AND, because it was the first firkin to sell out at ISBF and I didn’t get NEARLY enough of it! It got rave reviews at St Sebastians, so I’m hugely looking forward to this!

Five Oh

Sorachi WickedFive Oh Brew Co (Prestwich) – 6% abv – Stout – The first beer to sell out at ISBF and another one that garnered rave reviews. I tried a 1/3rd. It was bloody LUSH!!!! Then, just when I wanted another? It had gone. I was just TOO damned kind to you drinkers! Only the second time that Jamie has casked. You NEED this in your life!

North Riding

JesterNorth Riding Brewpub (Scarborough) – 4.2% abvPale Ale – Stuart Neilson just makes superb Pale Ales. Fresh and bursting with hops. This is with a new hop variety (Jester) and – if I know Stuart – he won’t have held back on the quantities! A rare appearance over here.

Bridestones

Sprocket Wort OrangeBridestones (Hebden Bridge) / Offbeat (Crewe) – 4.6% abvSpecial Dark Ale – This one is one of the collaboration brews especially for the festival. Chocolate, Orange, Juniper & Sorachi Ace hops? Oh my! I feel another Beergasm coming on!

Cheshire Brewhouse

Cheshire SetCheshire Brewhouse (Congleton) – 4% abvPale Ale – A crisp blonde ale from Shane Swindells with loads of late-added Keyworth Early hops? Sounds like an early doors beer that is too good to miss, from a brewery whose beers I drink whenever I find them. Because they are THAT good.

Brass Castle

AnnexationBrass Castle (Malton, North Yorks) – 8.4% abvImperial Stout – Inspired by the renewed expansionism of Putin, this looks one NOT to miss! “Smooth like the Volga and as bonkers as Putin”….Works for me! Brass Castle made one of the Beers of the Festival at ISBF and this is another I’ll be reaching for.

Black Flag

FangBlack Flag Brewery (Goonhavern, Cornwall) – 4.5% abvPale Ale – Had this in bottle whilst in Cornwall in August and it is an absolute fruity belter. Smooth with a piney kick in the finish. Have never seen them up here. If it’s on, I’ll be damned if I miss this!

Offbeat

Disfunctional Functional IPAOffbeat (Crewe) – 4.8%IPA – This San Diego inspired IPA is one I’m yet to have from one of my favourite breweries. And from what I’ve heard from some trusted drinkers, is not to be missed. And it won’t be. By me at least!!!

Rat

Workhouse RatRat (Huddersfield) – 4.8% – Smoked Porter – Whenever I see a Rat, I just have to. Because they are just SUCH good beers.

Well, I make that a round Dirty Dozen. Should be enough to keep me entertained next week! If there are any that you particularly fancy, bang it in the comments. Who knows, I might try one or two!

“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.

Bottled Ales – May 2014 – Pt 3

“Just out of Monday, I run into a friend down the street, down the street where I live.

Sad things begin. I could feel from within from the message, from the message he had to give  about a buddy of mine. 

He run out of time, his life run out of time
Somebody past noon, shot across the room and now the man no longer lives”

(“Billy Jack” – Curtis Mayfield)

(Video clip courtesy of “Geepereet” on YouTube)

Curtis Mayfield is one of my all-time musical heroes, a musical giant. A man who was tragically disabled in an accident whilst rehearsing on stage in 1990.The fact that he was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame ( a rare “double inductee” – having been inducted with The Impressions in 1991) on the same day as Paul McCartney, should indicate the massive influence the man had on popular music.

If you know a single Mayfield track, the chances are that it will be “Move On Up”, a song that is simply a soul/funk classic. However, it was arguably one of his lesser works. A man who was writing and recording in the 50s at the start of the Civil Rights struggles. A man who wrote the all-time classic “People Get Ready”, performed with his ban “The Impressions”. I could eulogise all night about songs like “Choice of Colours”,”This is My Country” Civil Rights era classics, delivered in his sweet falsetto.

His most famous album was arguably the soundtrack to the Blaxploitation movie Superfly (incidentally, a bloody great film!), notable for it’s social commentary, rather than a glorification of gangster life. For me though, his greatest achievement was the recording of his final album “New World Order”. The man was a truly great guitar player, but paralysed, no guitar playing here. The sheer effort of will to record your lyrics line by line whilst lying on your back…a heroic effort.

Did I mention that he was almost the OKEH records house songwriter (or so it seemed!), that he wrote masses of songs for other Chicago artists, so much so that there are compilations of songs that he wrote for others? That if James Brown is “The Godfather of Soul” then Curtis should be called “The Godfather of Funk”?

I love the man and his music – all thanks to a special man called Phil – who persuaded me as to the greatness of the man. And he WAS great.

(Recommended albums – in order of release date: Superfly, New World Order)

On to the beer eh?

If you have ever read one of these before, you will know what comes next! If you haven’t….this is the format…

1. The Beer, 2. The Brewer, 3. The Strength, 4. The beer style, 5. The Price & Size, 6. The discount (and why, eg: for CAMRA membership or shop deal, where applicable) 7. Where from,  and, If a website for the vendor exists, the hyperlink to the shop / brewer website, just in case you are inspired enough by my ramblings to make a purchase! Here goes….And remember, if you like the look of something, click on the (purple) hyperlink!

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1. Devils RestBurning Sky Beer (Brighton, Sussex) – 6.5% abv – IPA – £3.59 (330ml) – 10% for 12 btls or more – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

A lively deep amber coloured beer, well carbonated, with a big white head and an even bigger aroma laden with mango and orange. Inviting.

Oh oh ohhh! A big full-bodied beer this with masses of sticky orangey marmalade sweetness, oh this is love at first sip! That initial sticky sweetness is more than matched with an uncompromising hoppy bitterness that dries the mouth almost the instant that you swallow.

The second and third mouthfuls give some hints of mango and peach, all the while menaced with that bitter finish to each sip. Big sticky resins in here too. It may be “only” 6.5%, but this is a not a beer to be trifled with. Respect to Mark Tranter. My first Burning Sky in bottle. Bloody marvellous!

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2. Urban IPATiny Rebel Brew Co (Newport, South Wales) – 5.5% abv – IPA – £3.45 (330ml) – 0% – Beermoth (Tib St, Manchester)

This glowing amber coloured beer is as lively as a lively thing that’s feeling particularly….er….lively! The head is HUGE, fluffy and white giving off smells of orange rind. Really fresh citrussy aroma.

Given the massive carbonation, this is really smooth and full-bodied with initial flavour being a bready malt toast with lashings of orange marmalade.

Further mouthfuls give up more orange fruit but with notes of white grape and gooseberry. The smoothness is the thing here, this is just SO easy drinking for an IPA, with little bitterness, just a lovely dryness followed by a gentle grassy hop finish. Beautiful.

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3. Galaxy Pale AleHornbeam Brewery (Denton, Gtr Manchester) – 4.3% abv – Pale Ale – £2.80 (500ml) – 15% for 12 or more – Great Ale Year Round  (Bolton Market Hall)

When I got word that Dan & Gina had been to Hornbeam, my heart leaped! A brewery that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves in my book, just going about their business of making full-flavoured beers without fuss or fanfare. Happy days.

This is a mid-gold in colour with a nice lacy white head and some orange and passion fruit in the aroma.

Both of those flavours carry on into the mouth. Medium-bodied, with a brown toasty malt and lovely fruity hoppage! Really balanced (as are all Hornbeam beers), that fruitiness tapers off into a beautiful grassy tinged bitter finish. Lovely beer!

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4. 08/01Brew By Numbers (Bermondsey, London) – 6.1% abv – Stout – £3.39 – I think! (330ml) – 10% for 12 btls or more – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

Pitch black, just as a good stout should be. Opaque, with a creamy tan coloured head. So far, so good! The aroma is of bitter chocolate and has a peppery note, making the nose tingle a bit.

Full-bodied beer this, with a lovely creamy texture to it. The initial flavour is of REALLY bitter chocolate (the high percentage cocoa type), topped off with the merest hint of fresh brewed espresso. The second mouthful intensified those flavours, rounding them off with a big hoppy bitterness.

A really full-flavoured and satisfying stout. My kind of beer!

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5. Jack of Clubs Wild Card Brewery (Walthamstow, East London) – 4.5% abv – Ruby Ale – £3.49 (330ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

Another beer from Raj’s expanding emporium!

Packaging. This is the third brewery that I’ve had that displays a tag suspended from the bottle by string. Classy use of a playing card style tag on a plain brown bottle. Really attractive – well, to me anyway!

Well, it’s definitely a ruby coloured beer! Topped off with a good slightly off-white head and an aroma that reminds me of bonfire night treacle covered in milky chocolate.

Medium-bodied this, is it a sin to call a beer a Ruby Mild? Not in my book it ain’t!!! This is really smooth, with caramel and treacle sweet malty flavours but quite dry in the finish. This is right up mein strasse! Not too heavy on the alcohol, this is just so balanced and smooth and has a gentle grassy note over the slight sweetness. I was kind of expecting something really hoppy, but got this. A really pleasant surprise. A superb “Ruby Mild”.

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6. Fire PloughWiper and True / Arbor Brewery (Both Bristol) – 5.5% abv – Smoked Porter – £3.49 (500ml) – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

Black as a stout. Beautiful tan leather coloured head. A winner with me already……shall we stop there? No?

Given that is made with smoked malt from the Baltic island of Gotland (Sweden), would it surprise you to learn that there is a significant, yet not overpowering, smoky aroma? Bloody hell! This has got it going on! (Apologies to Tone Loc)

Yes, there is a smokiness to this full-bodied beer, but the balance with the citrussy fruitiness of Simcoe and the added spicy note from the rye malt…This is a beautifully smooth mash-up of flavours…like a Black IPA, yet not. Confusticating, yet massively satisfying, there is just SO MUCH HAPPENING here! You’ve got the smoke, pine and citrus, a slight spiciness. A triumph of a beer. Why did I wait so long to drink it? Mmmmmmm…..SO looking forward to my impending trip to Bristol!

Well….That’s all folks….well, not quite. Allow me a rant.

I love social media. Now and again, people (lovely people too!) approach me and ask, “Are you….?” and we chat, we put faces to Twitter handles and d’you know what, it’s great. Social media is fun. It’s also a damn powerful tool, sometimes used irresponsibly.

When pontificating about beer, I keep my negative shit private. If I have some “constructive” feedback to give, I NEVER do it openly, but always directly to those that it may concern. With this Social Media bollocks comes a degree of responsibility.

What it isn’t for is airing matters that should be kept private.  If you have shit to deal with, keep it private. The people who are involved in this (if they read my tripe) know who they are. This shit isn’t fun and it isn’t worthy of celebration. It’s bullying. If I see this kind of shit again, you won’t be getting me patronising your businesses and I will encourage others to do the same. Period.

Sorry. Needed to vent.

Bottled Ales – April 2014 – Pt 4

“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of a football team,

or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” Frank Zappa

(Nicked without ceremony from the excellent website www.aswiftone.com)

“Between lightning and thunder, 3 seconds the gap. A warm candle glow keeps this wood room from black,

My cat, she sleeps on an old clippy mat, purring out echoes of faint pitter pat,

As the rain pours down in the yard. Rain, that most haunting sound.

Rain, makes beautiful music and rain brings peace upon all whom it pours.”

(“Rain” – Martin Stephenson & The Daintees)

(Video courtesy of  GTG5573 on You Tube)

No link to a beer this week for the song. This choice was inspired by just looking outside of my window as I started typing!

Some songs and albums just speak of a time in our lives. Some, not many, can do that and remain timeless. One such album (for me) is Boat To Bolivia by Martin Stephenson & The Daintees. It speaks of a time when this particular young man was a-courtin’ the young lady who was to become (and remains) my wife of nearly 25 years (she’s eligible for parole next year!)

Released in 1986, it is choc full of timeless songwriting. Tackling some heavy duty subject matter with a lightness of touch, from Crocodile Cryer through to Rain – (and the reggae inflected bonus title track), this is songwriting to simultaneously wallow and delight in. Just a joy, and one of the few albums my dearest brought into the marriage that we agreed on! Ah. The memories of my darling hobbit – all 4’8″ of her- having to sit on my shoulder so she could see the band at The International II in 1989! Priceless. A great album, often overlooked. Get on Spotify and have a listen!

Anyway – On to the beer eh?

If you have ever read one of these before, you will know what comes next! If you haven’t….this is the format…

1. The Beer, 2. The Brewer, 3. The Strength, 4. The beer style, 5. The Price & Size, 6. The discount (and why, eg: for CAMRA membership or shop deal, where applicable) 7. Where from,  and, If a website for the vendor exists, the hyperlink to the shop / brewer website, just in case you are inspired enough by my ramblings to make a purchase! Here goes….And remember, if you like the look of something, click on the (purple) hyperlink!

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1. Pale – Squawk Brewing Company (Ardwick, Manchester) – 4.9% abv – Pale Ale – £2.69 (330ml) – 10% for 12 Bottles – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

Beautifully carbonated and as gold as a Yukon wet dream, with a white head and a pacific hop aroma that makes me want to break out the grass skirt and dance a hula!

Making me drool. Seriously drool! Oooh Matron! Sharp. Really sharp in the mouth with enough grapefruit to start a fruit shop. A really bold beer! Light to medium-bodied, the initial fruitiness is immediately followed by a bitterness tsunami, crested by piney resins, like white foamy horses stamping around your mouth.

Hugely refreshing and full of flavour, go buy one and treat yourself. Oliver Turton done good. Again.

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2. The IPA – Anspach & Hobday (Bermondsey, S London) – 6% abv – IPA – £3.35 (330ml) – 10% for 12 Bottles – The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N  Manchester)

A new one to me, this brewery. However, having read some recent “Bermondsey Mile” posts, including one by my beery buddy TysonTheBeerhound I was expecting something interesting, to say the least. This also came with a “Raj Recommendation” too, so, if it was crap, HIS reputation was on the line with me! So…

An enticing deep golden/amber coloured beer with a lasting white head and restrained fruity yet slightly spicy aroma that carried a buttery note. Intriguing…..

Oh boy does this come alive in the mouth with the hops (Centennial, Galaxy & Columbus) singing loud and proud! Big boned ole beer this, with a good toffeeish malty spine augmented with some ripe orange marmalade leading on to a healthy helping of apricot (2 of your 5 a day in one glass. Result!).

Really smooth this, but certainly punching all of its 6% weight. The bitterness is fairly restrained but what there is, is pounced upon by a big sticky resinous finish. Big. Full-flavoured. And the head clings to the glass to the end. Classy IPA.

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3. Lupy As A Toucan (Amarillo, Citra, Galaxy, Motueka) – Cheshire Brewhouse – (Congleton, Cheshire) – 5% abv – Pale Ale – £3.50 – 15% for 12 or more – Great Ale Year Round  (Bolton Market Hall)

Last Tuesday, I received some intel that a firkin of Deeply Vale’s Tipsy Porridge Stout had been tapped at Dan & Gina Buck’s excellent wee micro bar. Being like a lemming faced with a cliff….It was all lush too…DV8 barrel aged in 20 yr old Bruchladdich cask….A Beergasm…. Whilst there – just before I left – this puppy caught my eye, One of Shane Swindells’ “Lupy” range that I was yet to try….

A deep gold beer with a full white fluffy head and a hugely fruity aroma with peach and pineapple sweetness in the vanguard, Um Bongo time again!

In the mush…. Mmmm…Really fruity! The first mouthful yields a luscious peachyness upfront, then a full-on bitterness, feels like there’s more to this…so, peeling back another onion layer….orange and tangerine, followed by that wave of bitterness again. This is another lovely beer…Oops..another layer…some mango too. Then that bitterness as night follows day….Really dry bitter and grassy finish to this too. Another cracker from Mr Swindells in “The Congo” (Rhymes with “Um Bongo”…No? Ach nuts! I’m no poet. And I know it!)

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4. Niamh’s Nemesis – Five Towns Brewery (Wakefield, W Yorkshire) – 5.7% – Strong Pale Ale – Direct From Brewery – 0 – 

Is there a pub out there that would do me a favour, near Manchester. Get some of this beer in!

This was among 13 other bottles that I liberated from Malcolm Bastow’ s boxes when I recently popped in to collect some casks for the Allgates Road To Wigan Beer Festival. Thank you Malcolm! (On a winner immediately with the Gaelic name!)

A golden beer with a nice white lacy head and an aroma bursting with grapefruit and apricot tartness.

Really fruity again this. Full of body, with a light biscuity malt, bitter fruitiness gatecrashes in with more grapefruit and some nice tart gooseberry (hopped with Nelson Sauvin & Cascade). Fruity mouthful after fruity mouthful, this is one superb Pale Ale. I could swear I got a taste of rhubarb in there too…..

Each mouthful is followed by a good strong bitterness and the finish is really dry with those piney beasties just lurking around the corner in that aftertaste, for the unwary. This is really easy drinking, perilously so at the strength. Another corker from Outwood!

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5. Mystery Beer 002 – Craft Rebellion (Who knows?) – 5.9% abv – Milk Stout – £0 (500ml) – 0 – Direct by mail

Nice shape to this bottle! The second beer to try that I’ve received from this shop. The idea of the Mystery being that you try it and see if you can figure who it is. Of course, I’m rubbish, ‘cos I’d never have had the 001 (Saison) as Partizan! Saisons may not be my personal luggage of choice….a Milk Stout however….

“Oooooooh….STOP!” (Listening to “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies as I drink this!)

Impenetrably black. (Always a good start with a stout!) A beautifully full cappucino coloured head and a nose full of…freshly roasted coffee!…Yummy!

Bloody hell this is SO good! The first thing I get is a full-bodied, creamy smooth mouthful with that bitter coffee, like the reveille being sounded on Sgt Bilko, eye-opening!

Then, like another one of those onion layer things….that lactic sweetness pops its head out and says “Hello!”  This is lush! That milky sweetness slips down oh so beautifully and reveals something slightly warming as it slides. The finish for this is slightly sweet with that bitter roast for balance. A cracking Stout!

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6. Smoked Porter – Saltaire Brewery (Shipley, W Yorkshire) / Northern Monk Brew Co (Holbeck, Leeds) – 6% abv – Smoked Porter – £1.80(I think!) (500ml) – Saltaire Brewery Bottle Shop

Another collaboration from those nomadic monks, this time staying a little closer to their Yorkshire roots. (Should be brewing in their own brewery in Holbeck about now!). Have enjoyed each beer thoroughly so far, I couldn’t see a collaboration with the reliably excellent Saltaire being any different!

Almost totally black beer with a latte coloured head and an aroma with some treacle toffee and a gentle whiff of wood smoke.

This is full-bodied and really silky smooth in the mouth (oat malt). Slightly sweet, there is definitely something of the bonfire about this beer, treacle toffee certainly and a definite subtle smokiness. There is a gentler bitterness to the finish, quite dialled down on the scale, but nonetheless, there is a grassy note in the finish along with that subtle smoke. It’s a cool evening tonight and this is perfect! Please brew this again fellas, this autumn would be nice!

Another cracking batch there. Next post might be a wee brief review of the CAMRA Bolton Beer Fest from this weekend.

On that note…’til next time….

Slainte!

Bottled Ales – January 2014 – Pt 3 (aka Where There’s Smoke….)

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The Independent Manchester Beer Convention (IndyManBeerCon) 2013 Pt 1

20131008_155421(The Splendour that is The Victoria Baths)

Doing this bloggy type thingy, one of the first things I wrote about was The Independent Manchester Beer Convention or IndyManBeerCon. A Beer Festival revelation, not only featuring some of the best beers that the UK had to offer, but held within the legendary Victoria Baths on Hathersage Rd. I remember getting my first drink and taking 45 minutes just to drink in the wondrous surroundings. The building may have been in need of substantial further refurbishment, but (and I don’t use this word lightly) I was awestruck. Stunning stained glass windows, beautiful balconies, lots of almost secret rooms. Ohh…….

Organised by the people behind Port Street Beer House, A Place Called Common & The Beagle, I was chuffed to bits to hear that the sequel was to have the same location. Another opportunity to say WOW!

For 2013, The “Convention” was to expand into 4 days from last years two. That was to be expected. Last year was incredibly popular, rightly so. The combination of the excellent beers, superlative “Street Food” and that oh so sumptuous location was a winner from the moment the doors first opened. Last year, I attended as a punter on the Friday and worked the bar on the Saturday. It was, quite simply, the most fun I’d had with my clothes on!

I had to ask myself, “Could they better last years’ effort?”

I assisted with one of the “Set Up” sessions on Tuesday. Partly (let’s be honest!) for a free session ticket. However, my main motivation was to see what the place looked like BEFORE the “beer locusts” arrived on the Thursday evening, draining everything in their path!

20131008_124305(Room 1 – The beers had just started to arrive)

The logistics of this organisation are simply boggling. Before the beer started arriving, the first job to do was washing and drying glassware. And there was A LOT OF IT! Just as we got started, Magic Rock and Marble arrived with their beer deliveries. Magic Rock had their own room (the room in which Brewdog were located last year), so that was easy. The Marble beers had to be delivered to their bar which was in room 1 – thank the gods for cask carriers!

20131008_124421(No. Those are empties. Is it just me, or does this look like a shrine?)

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(The REAL “Angel of the North”!)

What, with more glass deliveries – yes, I smashed a couple, sorry! – price labelling (casks), multiple brewery deliveries and bar construction, let’s just say, we were kept fully occupied!

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(Room 3)

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(Room 2 – View toward Food Vendor area)

I enjoyed this hugely. Met some nice volunteers. Got to meet Claudia, Duncan, Rosie and Jamie from the Port Street empire (nice to put names to faces that you see so often!), it was just, FUN.

Thursday

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(Room 2 – early on)

I hate being late. Especially when it’s my own fault. However, I couldn’t turn up covered in emulsion paint, could I? Trust me, It is NOT a good look! So, by the time that Jaz (Arch-Nemesis), Chris (Sacrificial Lamb) and I got in, the place was already busy. Having not eaten since breakfast though, first priority was food. The Meat Paella from Las Paelleras fitted the bill. Lots of lovely beery soaky plump rice grains with oodles of paprika and chorizo and chicken……drool……superb value at £5.

Firstly, with the beer, we need to talk about the measures. These are all priced for the 1/3rd of a pint. As you enter the building you pay/show your ticket, and are given a beer menu for that particular day. You are also given a stemmed glass marked with a line for the 1/3rd pint measure. Trust me, this works. The glass is lovely and delicate (Translation? Easy to smash on the way home!). This measure gives you the opportunity to try more beers. Personally? I just think that it’s more civilised than swilling pints!

At the bottom of the beer list is a wee map, showing where the various locations for functions are located. After a few, trust me, it would be easy to get lost whilst admiring this gorgeous interior!

First beer of the evening had to be light in alcohol, refreshing and hoppy. Quantum NZ Light at 3.6% abv was all that and more. Pale gold, fruity hop nose with the flavours of kiwi and passion fruit in the mouth. Tasty and damned refreshing. Having sat down to enjoy my Quantum with the paella, I was struck by the music. The sound of saxophone. And there they were, up on the balcony. Live music, nice touch. (Of course…if I had been paying attention to the website….)

It was getting a little busier at the bar in room 2, but service was till swift, so I stayed in here for another. Beadica’s Well (Barrel Aged) by Thornbridge. Whilst I hardly have beergasms over Thornbridge’s pale output, the darks generally rock my world. This was no exception. Black with a light creamy head. Smoky wood and toffee nose leading to more woody smoke, some treacle notes with some warming spirit drifting up your nose. Performed the trick of tasting above it’s relatively moderate 5.3% abv strength.

IMAG0029(Bar in Room 1)

Next came a walk into Room 1 to sample one of the IMBC Collaboration beers. Farmhouse IPA with Marble Brewery. At 7.4%, for the price of just a single token, this was a bargain! First on the nose, I got  quite hoppy notes with some yeasty Belgian funk. But in the mouth, the Saison character takes over. Quite spicy, yeasty and with a touch of peachy fruity sweetness. Superb.

IMAG0041(Room 3 – The Music Room)

Into Room 3 now for something a little different. Tea Saison from Buxton Brewery. Made with Cherry and Cranberry fruit teas allegedly! But where fruit teas can be a flavour let-down, this was anything but! Really tart and fruity aroma, the taste was akin to a Kriek, tart and mouth puckering. Really fruity and tart/sour with a finish that was sharp and as dry as a bone. Probably my second favourite of the evening.

Venturing into the Turkish Baths room now for a Dark Arts by Magic Rock – Kegged, therefore slightly too cold for my tastes, this is still a damned tasty strong stout with a firm dark roast malt body and the spiky flavours of bitter chocolate and coffee. A really good beer. Here is where I firmly come down on the cask conditioned side. Texture and temperature. I just think that cask (for me) wins hands down. Do I have all knowledge? Do I bollocks! I just happen to believe that cask conditioned, Dark Arts is a classic and one of my all-time favourites. On keg, it’s simply a really nice strong stout. And cold.

At this point, I went for a looksie into Room 3 where there was a band playing. They were called All We Are, and, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was in company, I could have listened to them all evening. They sounded simply superb.

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Back to room 2 now. Weird Wit Black Jack Brewery collaboration with Weird Beard of Hanwell, W London. At 5% this was hazy gold with a gentle fruity aroma. This got going when it hit your taste buds! Quite full-bodied for a 5% beer, fruity, you could taste the melon as well, but this was simultaneously quite bitter with a marked resinous finish.  tasted a bit like a hybrid of a saison and an IPA. And in a VERY good way!

Stepping up on the abv now, next up was Blackberry King of Clubs by Black Jack Brewery Black and really fruity aroma. This was full of blackberry flavour. A full bodied dark roasted stout full of bitter coffee, chocolate and tart berries. Joint Beer of the Evening in my book! Along with…

Oh yes! From the moment that I saw this coming into the building on Tuesday, I just HAD to have some! Imperial Treacle Stout by Quantum (IMBC Collab beer) It says 8.6% on the menu, but 9.1% on the clip. Ooooohhhh smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back in time for breakfast! Unctuous, silky, oily and oh so bad for you. I REALLY don’t think anyone else should touch this beer. Leave it all for me. There’s a love! Black, alternately sweet with that gooey treacle, then bitter, then fruity. It was just soooo good, er…I mean terrible……er…Just leave it all for me. OK! Young Mr Krause has played another blinder! Cheers Jay.

To be honest, I took it really easy last night. I just enjoyed myself. Long chats with Peter (aka Tandleman) and his lovely lady Eileen to whom I could listen all evening dispensing beery pearls of wisdom (Eileen, of course ;-)) and some cracking chats with Matt from Privateer Beers (should have had his Dark Revenge here, CMON!) and his lovely friends Helen & Maria (I think?). Matt may be moving his brewery soon and it was nice to see him, especially talking positively about the future of the brewery. Helen has connections with the West Riding Refreshment Rooms at Dewsbury Train Station, a place I love of old. Long chat with Helen, birds of a feather views wise.

In summary. The venue is stunning. The beers were excellent and (mostly) well priced. The food was superb and laid on by the Guerilla Eats street food collective. The entertainment was first-rate (I don’t recall music last year?) The PSBH empire have raised the bar again. I could wax even more lyrical, but there are others more eloquent than I who will do that far better.

There is room to breathe – unlike most other fests. Room to chat (and be heard). It;s just civilised.  I enjoyed myself so much, that I completely lost track of time! So much so, that I finally paid attention to one of Matt’s (Privateer) prompts and realised that I had just over 10 minutes to get to Piccadilly and my last bus home (the look in Jaz’s eye indicated that his futon was NOT an option!)

TAXI!!!

Back to work there  (hopefully behind a bar) later – say hello. I’ll (probably be the oldest bloke behind the bars! And no beard!!!)

I’m hearing that there are still some tickets for Sunday going. Do yourself (and your taste buds) a favour. Come on down. Good food, great beer and a SPECTACULAR venue – worth the entry fee alone. Check http://www.indymanbeercon.co.uk/ for details!

On that note (and this may be further added to on Sunday!)…til then

Slainte!

Allgates Brewery – The Road To Wigan Beer – 03/10/2013 – 13/10/2013

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I have a lot to thank my Arch-Nemesis (Jaz) for. One of those things is the rekindling of my love for beer and pubs (resulting in these wafflings, I suppose!) Another thing that I have him to thank for, is my discovering the pubs – and beers – of Allgates Brewery. Over the last year, I have sampled many of their beers, all of which have been very tasty and full of flavour – from the Mild made with NZ hops (AllBlack) through the citrussy, zingy Ostara all the way to the Oatmeal Stout which I had a small part in the making of. I suppose – to cut a long story short – they are now, without question, my favourite brewery. But, I NEVER use one word where 2000 will do, do I?

Allgates, the Brewery & Pub Company is owned by two partners, David Mayhall & Ian Thorpe. They own 7 working pubs, all 7 being based in – or around – the Wigan metropolitan area. The ethos of these pubs is simple. They are rooted in – and are very much of – the local community. They offer excellent, locally brewed beers, alongside a wide range of superlative (and imaginatively sourced) guest beers from the best breweries in the UK, often supporting the youngest and freshest Microbreweries.

20131005_170827(Beer selection previously served at The White Lion, Leigh)

Another key matter that distinguishes Allgates’ pubs from their competition, is the pricing of their beers – both their own AND guest beers. To say that they are good value is to massively understate the effect that ordering a guest beer in an Allgates pub can have on the unwary. As an example. I ordered 2 pints of Motueka (single hopped Pale Ale) by Arbor from Bristol. An ale that would cost upwards of £3.40 in Manchester. I paid £4.20. That is £2.10 a pint!!! Obscenely cheap. In bloody good condition too! (Which, if you stay awake, you may read about later!)

In March this year, along with Jaz & my other good friend Col, I had a go at the previous RTWB, trying 3 Allgates pubs, The Anvil (technically, the Brewery Tap), The Hare & Hounds in Hindley and The Jolly Nailor in Atherton. 3 cracking pubs, but each distinctly different from the others. The beers in this “festival” were uniformly excellent. Not a single bum note to be had. I have subsequently had a number of Sunday Lunches in a further Allgates pub, The Crooke Hall Inn (Crook Village) on the bank of the Leeds – Liverpool canal. Another fabulous pub, with great food!

The principle of The Road To Wigan Beer is that it is simply a different kind of Beer Festival. One that is spread across all 7 pubs (in this instance) across 11 days. The trick is, to try to get to all 7 pubs. How? I hear you ask! The answer……(as I was advised by young Mr Mayhall…) by BUS!!! It transpires, that a bus had been organised for some regulars to get around all 7 pubs in the one day. Being somewhat of a cheeky little tyke, I had to ask, didn’t I?

Road To Wigan Beer Oct 2013

So, the Arch-Nemesis & I find ourselves meeting at Wigan Wallgate and watching (what seemed like) the entire town, clad in Cherry & White, emigrating to Old Trafford for the Rugby League “Super League Grand Final”, of which, more later! Grabbing a swift pork pie from Galloways, we strolled into (for us) the first pub of the day. The Allgates Brewery Tap, The Anvil.

Wigan pub ,The Anvil, built 1894(pic – www.beer-meister.co.uk)

The Anvil is a large pub occupying a corner plot on Dorning Street, just around the corner from Wigan Bus Station and a 2 minute walk from the brewery itself. A single roomed pub but with distinctly separate drinking areas giving it the feel of a multi-roomed premises. Each time that I have been in, it’s always been busy both with ale drinkers from far and wide and, predominantly, locals attracted by the excellent beer, keen prices and a core clientele with betting slips in hand and more than an eye on the TV watching the sports. This is a busy pub. It also sells damn fine beer. Like my first pint of the day…..

Atomic BlondeRevolutions Brewing (Castleford, W Yorkshire) A 4.5% abv blonde beer sticking to the core Revolutions themes, Music themed beer and a fine beer at that! This was only the second of their beers that I have had on handpull over here. Have had loads in bottle and they have been uniformly superb, full-flavoured, tasty, balanced beers. This was no exception. Pale gold with a fruity aroma, medium bodied and full of fruity bitter flavour with gooseberry and apple (or so I thought), sharp and zesty with a hint of tartness. Fresh, refreshing with a supremely dry bitter finish, absolutely cracking nick. The only problem was, it went down too damn quick! With a few minutes before the bus showed up, I hazarded a swift half of something else….

Odyssey BlondeFallen Brewing (Kippen, Stirlingshire, Scotland) Another “Blonde” beer, this time at 4.1% abv, super pale beer, with a spicy, almost savoury aroma which I couldn’t quite pick, fresh clean and spicy/bitter, the kicker came in the aftertaste with quite a hit of wood smoke! No doubt about it and very unexpected in a paler beer like this, unusual, damned tasty and also hurried down as I was told by David that the bus was here! Though I hate rushing good beer (and the Fallen was VERY good!), there was nothing else for it but to bolt it down and follow the throng! A good start on the beer front!

Onto the bus we go. It felt a bit like the works outing scene from Carry On At Your Convenience, replacing Londoners with the most genial bunch of people, Wiganers to a man/woman, that it’s been my pleasure to be on a bus with. On the top deck the banter was immediately flowing, I was soon chuckling and grinning from ear to ear listening to people that I was soon to get to know far better! The bus was headed to the most westerly Allgates pub…

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The Crooke Hall Inn is situated in Crooke Village and the pub is located on the picturesque banks of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Unfortunately, the access road couldn’t accommodate the girth of our historic white, orange and brown GM Buses double-decker, so we bailed out outside a Marstons pub for a 5 minute walk to the pub. A true Multi-Roomed pub with 4 separate drinking areas (including the bar area) and a beer garden area to die for on the canal side.

Been here a few times now, the last Allgates pub I’d “discovered”. My family has enjoyed a few excellent Sunday Roast dinners here over the last few months (of course, the excellent All Black Mild had nothing to do with my choice of venue, Oh No! *fingers crossed*). As with all their pubs, the landlord – in this case Gregg – keeps a fine cellar with excellent ale. Knowing this, I had high hopes for a beer that I knew he had on….

EP – Revolutions Brewing (Castleford, W Yorkshire) Now, I’ve written about my love of both Andy & Marks’ beers and their musical leanings/ethos. A short conversation with Andy left me in no doubt about his love of both beer and good music (of all kinds). All the beers are brewed to strengths consistent with music formats (3.3% abv / 33RPM, 4.5% abv / 45RPM, 6.0% / C60 ……), the EP is at 3.9% abv, being halfway between a vinyl single and an album. More importantly, the beer tasted just as good as I expected it to. A golden beer with a slightly resinous grassy hop aroma, it was clean fresh and hoppy with a hint of a bitter lemon character in there.

20131005_131033(Revolutions EP & Bexar County Texan Pecan Coffee Mild)

Texan Pecan Coffee MildBexar County Brewery (Peterborough, Cambridgeshire) – For me, one of the beers of the day. Unfiltered and 3.7% abv, a hazy, murky brown beer comes from the pump, but give it a moment, then a sniff and Cafe au Lait comes over on the nose. In the mouth, more coffee, quite gentle, then a real nutty overtone. A “Ronseal” beer (does exactly what it says…..) and a belter that would go down well (even with the light abv) in some of the better Manchester “craft” pubs. As I finished and popped for a quick chat with Jonathan (Allgates head brewer), about current happenings at the brewery, it was apparent that I’d finished my beer too soon. Ah well, a swift half is called for again….

Bitter KiwiBristol Beer Factory (er…Bristol?) (5% abv) Pale gold again with big grapefruit hop aromas, really zesty fruity in the mouth too, zingy sharp hoppy flavours. Bloody good (if ill-advised – at 5%!) beer, as BBF normally is!

Ding, ding…..back onto that bus, with a further passenger, Gregg, the landlord from The Crooke!

A good 25min or so drive now. We were due to go to The Union in Tyldesley next, but the driver obviously had other ideas!

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The Jolly Nailor sits on an imposing corner plot on Market Street in Atherton. Quite a large pub with three distinct drinking areas, again, a proper multi-room. Again, as with all Allgates pubs, several handpumps dispensing both Allgates own and guest beers. Last time I came, on the previous “Road” trip (read here), there was a rock band warming up. The pub has live music on each Friday and Saturday, good nights, so I’m reliably informed. I was “here for the beer” so, in that spirit….

Harts DesireHarthill Village Brewery (Harthill, nr Sheffield) (4.4% abv) – Another new brewery to me. The Harts Desire was a mid-brown beer with a spicy fruity (mango/apricot) hop aroma. Medium bodied with some biscuit malt overlaid with fruity hops (gentle apricot). This had a dry bitter finish with a hint of licorice root in the aftertaste. Another superb beer in great condition. Followed by….

Citra BurstAlechemy Brewing (Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland) Citra is the Marmite of hops. Me? I love it! This was no different. A golden beer with the bitter grapefruit aroma characteristic of single hopped Citra beers. Loads of toffee maltiness giving this excellent balance with a hint of vanilla, I thought. Big bitter finish with a lingering hint of toffee in the big zesty grapefruit aftertaste.

20131005_145602(A selection of previous ales at The Jolly Nailor)

With a bit of time left, a swift half was called for….

HopspurRedemption Brewing (Tottenham, N London) – 4.5% abv Amber coloured beer with a surprisingly citrussy aroma. Biscuit malt but quite bitter with more than a hint of grapefruit, good clean bitter finish. Another good beer from the makers of the superlative Trinity Pale Ale.

Now, Jaz was gutted to see a new beer clip on the pumps. So, not wanting to miss out, the sod got another half in……

GalaxyTwo Roses Brewery (Darton, nr Barnsley, S Yorkshire) – 4% abv pale beer, slightly hazy with a super aroma of mango and passion fruit. Fruity and slightly resinous in the mouth with a tremendously bitter finish. Had the bottles from TR before, but first time on draught. Superb!

Ding, ding…….

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Back onto the bus to….Tyldesley and….

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The Union Arms, Castle Street, Tyldesley – A deceptively large pub, with a central bar and three drinking areas, with one, slightly elevated, being set for food. The, now about 45 strong, bus load swarmed into the pub. The first time that it took more than a minute or two to get served, but it was more than worth it….

MotuekaArbor Brewery (Bristol) 3.8% single hopped pale ale. The jaw dropper here was the price. £2.10 a pint! I have paid nearly £1.50 MORE for this in Manchester. Ludicrously good value for a super fruity pale gold beer with abundant grapefruit aromas. Light biscuit malt with super fruity hoppy taste. Nice bitter finish too. Nice chat with two guys we hadn’t met before, Tony & Jay.

Onwards……

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The White Lion, Leigh Road, Leigh.

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(Value? I kid you not!)

Nice cosy traditional pub with three separate rooms. Lots of wood, warm and friendly. being on her own, the landlady rang for reinforcements! Down came Harry the landlord! Friendly as hell behind the bar, but what mattered even more was the top quality of the beer, in this case…..

#10 Smoked Porter – Shamblemoose Brewery (Haslemere, Surrey) – A new brewery for me and a lovely black beer with a gentle coffee aroma. The smokiness really came through in the mouth with some dark roasted coffee in there too. Lovely, full-bodied with a creamy mouthfeel. Really goo (or even “good”) ale!

The pace was slowing now (but not for all!), I was taking more time to chat and simply enjoy the ale….but Tempus Fugit and all that latin stuff……..

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The Hare & Hounds , Ladies Lane, Hindley.

If I could have a local pub, let it be like this. I LOVE the Hare! A dog friendly pub, with cracking beer, a real fire  and friendly locals. Four walled heaven!

Scouting the bar after a quick smile at Nigel, the landlord, my eyes hit another brewery I hadn’t had before….

ParklifeWindsor & Eton Brewery 3.2% abv – The lightest beer of the day. Well received by others. Copper coloured, gentle citrus aroma with some fruitiness in the mouth. Not bad, per se, I suppose, but given all I had heard about this brewery, I expected, well…more. As I said, some really enjoyed it, but I just wasn’t overly struck.

Moving on to another brewery I had never had…..

Drops of JupiterBumpmill Brewery (Alfreton, Derbyshire) 4% abv. Instantly getting the music reference (“Drops of Jupiter” being an album by the US band Train), I was warming to the beer before I had it in my maw. Pale gold again, nice full citrus aroma. Loads of fruity grapefruit citrus in the mouth. Refreshing, really fruity and a nice bitter finish. MUCH more like it!

First half of the Rugby was in here. Not going well. Lots of handling errors and mistakes by Wigan allowing Warrington a 16-2 lead. An unconverted try just before halftime lightened the spirits and fired optimisms’ flames!

Not enough time here for me. So I’ll be back on Tuesday! Moving on (and getting a little darker now……)

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The Victoria, Haigh Village, Wigan – First time at this pub for me (and the final Allgates pub. I now have the whole set! Two main rooms with a corridor linking the two. We got in with 5 minutes of the second half of the Grand Final played. Better from Wigan…… Pool table in the right-sided room where most settled to watch the finale….

Here I had….

Rhapsody – Alechemy Brewing (Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland) 3.8% abv – Being a wee bit (ahem) refreshed by this point, my schnozzle may have lost its “beerhound” sharpness as I didn’t get much aroma from this, but it was a damned tasty pint. Pale gold with a tight white head, crackling with grapefruit sharpness. Really fruity and refreshing. At the strength, it stood up really well.

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(all eyes on the screen!)

Back end of the second half was all Wigan as the pressure was poured on. A couple of tries close to the posts (both converted) took Wigan ahead to ecstatic scenes in the pub as they emerged as 30-16 winners. 24 points without reply in the second half!

Jubilant happy faces as we got back on the bus (just WHO took that sneaky pic in the pub?) we were back to where it all began 8 1/2 hours before….

20131005_203232(Once more unto the breach…..!)

Ostara was on. I simply had to do it! 3.6% of fruity hoppy heaven. One of my Beers of The Year so far. We’ll leave it there shall we. There was a train to be caught and I seriously hope that I made sense to David by this point!

I think I can say that, without exception, that in my opinion (for the little that THAT is worth!), each of the beers that I drank / sampled was in excellent condition. There was only one beer that I didn’t truly enjoy, the rest were all excellent. If I had to choose favourites on the day – which is difficult, I would say two from early on, The Atomic Blonde from Revolutions Brewing at The Anvil and the Texan Pecan Coffee Mild from Bexar County Brewery. Both superb, tasty beers, as were they all.

But this is, in my experience, what you get from Allgates’ pubs. Great beers in excellent condition, in a friendly, traditional pub environment. Just the kind of places that we should be treasuring. I do, that’s why I’ll be back in The Anvil and Hare & Hounds tomorrow evening!

This was a total blast! I met and chatted with many people I had never previously met. All with broad Wigan accents. I do believe that there may have even been a bit of Wigan dialect spoke on the bus! A huge thanks to David & Ian, Jonathan for humouring me by listening to my blathering on,”Stig” for sorting the bus and everyone else who contributed to this most excellent of days.

There is still a week to go on The Road To Wigan Beer. Treat yourself. A return ticket to Wigan can put you within a 3 minute walk of both The Anvil and (on the return leg..) The Hare & Hounds. Give it a go…and thank me later!

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

There is an ancient Celtic axiom that says “Good People Drink Good Beer.” Which is true, then as now. Just look around you in any public bar and you will quickly see: Bad People Drink Bad Beer. Think about it.”
Hunter S. Thompson

Because too much is never enough…..Or my good friend Col couldn’t make Saturday’s Epic Crawl, we decided to pop into a couple of Allgates pubs along our train line (Manchester – Wigan) and sample some new beers that I didn’t get to try on Saturday. Greedy, but hey…….

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Back to The Anvil, being in the centre of Wigan, within 3 minutes of Wallgate Station, Reasonably busy for a Tuesday night. Unfortunately, the Jarl by Fyne Ales had sold out, as expected. However, more than adequate compensation was to be found…..

HankTiny Rebel Brewery (Newport, Gwent) A 4% abv pale ale that was really pale and full of the sharp grapefruit aromas of Citra. Really balanced with plenty of biscuit sweetness cut through with that grapefruit tang. This mellowed as I went down the glass and tangerine came through. A good beer in cracking form. 

Tempus Fugit. We had a train to catch to the next and final pub, but we certainly had time for a couple more…..

American Pale AleClarence & Fredericks (Croydon, S London) 4.1% abv. Deep gold with a creamy white head, a little tartness in the aroma which was more than represented in the mouth! Bitter orange seville marmalade with maybe a hint of tart gooseberry, nice smooth texture and full of mouth puckering fruity hop flavour. The aftertaste had quite a resinous hit. Only the second beer I’ve had from this brewer. Both excellent.

Just about time for a cheeky half before the train…..

Blackhouse (Smoked Porter) – Fallen Brewing (Kippen, Stirlingshire, Scotland) – A hazy deep brown beer with a chocolate caramel nose (made me think of a liquified Cadburys Caramel). The flavour matched the nose with addition of the late appearance of a warm smoky note. Really smooth and creamy. Shame I only had time for a half!

A swift walk to Wallgate Station for the 20:27 toward Manchester and the second stop on the line. From there, a 5 minute walk downhill to…

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The Hare & Hounds is just a proper local. The kind of pub which just gives you a warm hug of familiarity when you push open the door. Again, I was hoping for Jarl, but it seems like I was a day early. Col however, was as happy as a pig in muck, ‘cos he’d come for the next beer (and that alone)

Mud BrawlerBoggart Brewery (North Manchester) A 4.4% Vanilla Porter which feels like a Stout. Very dark brown , a creamy coloured head with a milky coffee and vanilla aroma. Full bodied smooth drinking beer with vanilla on a dark roast choclolaty coffee malt base. As good as I had it at the brewery tap, The MicroBar in Manchester. Winner of top gong at Peterborough 2013. I can see why.

OstaraAllgates Brewery (Wigan, Lancashire) Sometimes, you just don’t need to go for a guest beer, when there is something as good as this. Pale gold, with a zesty grapefruit / apricot nose. Really fruity in the mouth with bitter citrus over a slightly sweet malted milk biscuit base. Nice bitter finish with bit of grapefruit in the aftertaste. Just one of my very favourite beers. Kept very well.

Finally, to lubricate the excellent conversation we were having with Nigel (mine host), his good lady and some of the regulars (see what I mean about friendly?) …a beer I had the other evening

Rhapsody – Alechemy Brewing (Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland) 3.8% abv – Feeling slightly less (ahem) “refreshed” as I was by close of play on Saturday, I thought I’d give this another bash – and was glad I did! A pale golden “blonde” ale. Nice fruity nose with passion fruit and kiwi. A lovely slightly dry bitter finish. I think I appreciated it a bit more tonight!

That’s it! In the words of the great boxer Roberto Duran (having taken a fight full of punishment from Sugar Ray Leonard) “No Mas”!!!

I’m off for a cup of tea and girding my loins for The Independent Manchester Beer Convention tomorrow. Having volunteered for yesterdays “set-up” session, having seen many of the beers delivered, I can say but one thing. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, you’re in for a treat!

Slainte!

A Day Trip To Stockport – 18/05/2013

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I’m quite nosey me! (Bolton speak!) So when I picked up that Jaz and a group of his colleagues were planning a group tour of Robinsons (henceforth, Robbies) Brewery in Stockport, it set the limited grey matter working. I hadn’t been drinking in Stockport since the mid 80s and this struck me as an ideal opportunity to fill this knowledge gap (at least partly). Jaz made the right noises and I was in!

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Now, this also brought me within the gravitational pull of a certain Mr Jay Krause, Owner, Brewer and all-round hop alchemist at Quantum Brewing – I just had to ask! Didn’t I? Being the ‘good egg’ that he undoubtedly is, he invited Jaz & myself round. Whoo-Hoo! Two breweries in one day. Bargain!

So, I find myself on the train (for a change) and (meeting Jaz at Piccadilly) we set off on the 11:15 Virgin train to London Euston and a mere 10 minutes later, we’re walking up Wellington Road. Bugger me, but that is a hell of a gradient! It’s hardly the Col de la Madeleine, but I was bloody knackered before it levelled off on Hempshaw Lane where the aforementioned Mr Krause weaves his magic.

Let’s say, I struggled to find Quantum, initially! Then I remembered something Jay said about location, retraced my steps and lo! There be casks!

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(Anyone for beer barrel Jenga?)

Jay started this operation in 2011 and has quickly gained a reputation for full flavoured beers with often unusual ingredients – his Blood Orange Pale Ale has entered into legend! (And was the first beer Jaz asked about!) I first saw him at the Leeds International Beer Fest last year behind the bar and enjoyed his Stout hugely. Since then, I’ve had several of his beers and they have all been excellent, in particular his Keyworths Early using an old hop variety that could well make a comeback.

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(LtoR – Hot Liquor Tank and Copper)

Anyhoo! Located in an industrial unit off Hempshaw Lane, just outside (and UPHILL of) Stockport centre, Jay is unmistakably a one man band. I fail to comprehend how I can find so much of his beer in the Manchester area, with the size of his operation. He looks like a hell of an engineer having adapted his own mash tun to suit his own needs. 

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(Self built Mash Tun!)

He dispenses his beer in a variety of formats, Cask, KeyKeg and bottle. The bottles aren’t bottle conditioned, which will certainly help when it comes to chilling them slightly!

A 5 Bbl plant means that he can brew up to 1440 pints per brew, that’s 20 9 gallon firkins (cask) or nearly 1500 bottles! It’s good to hear that he’s making it pay, though he’s some distance off being a ‘beer baron’! This is his day job and he makes it pay by producing excellent beer which is showcased in some of Manchester’s best bars (Port Street, Joshua Brooks and Font, to name but 3!)

I was intrigued to see some of his wooden casks used for some specials. Smoked Porter aged in Caol Ila whisky cask anyone? (Trust me to miss THAT one!)

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As mentioned earlier, he produces a wide variety of tasty beers. In that vein, he allowed Jaz and myself to sample a Saison that is about to be released into ‘the wild’. This is one lovely beer! Slightly hazy and golden in colour with a lovely fruitiness and dry finish. This may be making its way in the world this week. Jaz & I both loved it. The knowledge that it’ll be served in Joshua Brooks was gratefully received. (James’ll tip us the wink, won’t you?)

As stated, Jay’s is a small, true Micro Brewery and he does all the key tasks himself, even down to the bottling. He’s one busy boy and we were really grateful that he took time out to chat with us and answer my idiot novice questions with good grace and a smile! (And a HUGE thanks for the CCC and American Amber! Reviewed soon – as long as Jaz doesn’t drink them first – they’re stored at his flat!)

A genuinely nice bloke running a human scale brewing operation. Look out for his beers, you will NOT be disappointed! (A collaboration brew is in the offing with Allgates, Jay, Tandleman & Tyson The Beerhound – Two top brewers and two fables tasters – I may even sit in the bleachers and watch the fun! Watch this space, it’s gonna be superb!)

Now, for the polar opposite?

But first, we had a bit of time to spare before our 13:30 appointment at the brewing behemoth that is Robinsons, so we strolled along to the market place to have a look at the High Peak Beer Co.

I didn’t expect such a small unit! But a superb selection of beers from near and far. Had a bit of chat with (who I presume to be) the owner. Certainly knows his beer this man! Aims to snaffle himself a pub in the peak within the next 5 years with maybe a brew plant out the back. I like it! Said he’d be looking at a bit of a camping facility as well. I’m there already! Picked myself up a bottle of Axe Edge by Buxton Brewery. A cheery wave and we were off to meet our fellow beer tourists in the local Wetherspoons)

Had a nice pint of GWB Meerkat Mild here. Big ol’ Spoons, huge floor area, but 3 milds on, including George Wrights and Titanic. More later.

A short walk from Wetherspoons and we find ourselves at…..

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(Shiny new Visitors centre!)

We were given a few minutes to gather ourselves together (and, no doubt, peruse purchasing opportunities!)

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20130518_133834(Putting the cart before the – absent – horse!)

The Visitor Centre is fairly new. Lots of interactive displays around the walls with an accent on the history and heritage of the brewery. Lots of merchandise for sale from chutneys to t-shirts with most of Robbies bottled beer available to purchase, including the new “collaboration” beer with Iron Maiden, Trooper, which featured prominently as you would expect.

We were gathered together by our tour guide and shown the highways and byways of this, quite large, brewery.

Being a ‘tower’ type brewery (the process flows down with gravity!), there were a LOT of steps. If you have fitness issues (like me!) be prepared for recovery time!

There was a big accent on a recent major brewery refurb, with lots of new, efficient, kit being bought from Germany at great expense. Bright and shiny it was indeed. Industrial. This is a big business. They retained examples of most of the old kit too, which made for a nice contrast, starting at the old and new grist mills (grain grinders). Here we were shown samples of the various malts and encouraged to taste. I loved the bitter coffee flavours of the chocolate malt (surprised?)

We were also encouraged to smell sample a variety of hops. In Robbies case, mostly British with one jar of US (Amarillo). Robbies predominantly use Goldings in their beers.

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(Grist to the mill!)

The Mash Tun and Lauter Tun were next and from this point, you get an idea of the sheer huge scale of this operation. These vessels are HUGE, like icebergs, you only see what’s on the surface.

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(Old & New)

Onward to the brewing vessel (or Copper) where the hops are added to impart their aromas and bitter characteristics. Again, think of icebergs!

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Via the Hop Back room (where the spent hops are removed – like the spent grains at other stages – and sent to farms for animal feed) we were taken to the fermenting vessels. Robbies have loads of FVs and again, they are HUGE! I had to take snaps of working FVs and empty to give you the scale. The FV is where the yeast comes to the party, shakes its booty and turns all those lovely sugars into even lovelier alcohol. There were some gorgeous fruity smells in here with maybe 4 FVs at work. (Robbies also have separate vessels used to brew Fentimans botanic drinks)

20130518_144655(The yeast having a party. Check out the patterns!)

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(An empty FV. That must be 15ft deep!!! That’s a whole lot of happy juice!)

With a quick peep into a Control Room, which looked like the tidiest, cleanest office you’ll EVER work in, we were pretty much done. This is a high-tech, leaner, more environmentally friendly operation than ever.

Then were off to the bar to spend our “tokens”, each of which equated to a 1/3rd of beer. I chose a 1/3rd each of Uncle Sams pale ale, Trooper (The Iron Maiden beer) and Fredericks on keg at 6.5%. If I’m honest, I wasn’t overly struck by any of them. A slight preference for the Uncle Sams which was reasonably hoppy and bitter. The Trooper was a maltier brew and fine for what it is. The Fredericks was overly cold and, for 6.5%, I didn’t get much at all.

The bar/restaurant area was quite a nice space. If open to the public (aside from tours) this could be a nice little earner. The beer is in good nick (as you would expect) and the food (limited to sandwiches today) looked quite good.

A couple of observations –

1. This a slick tour around a grand old institution which has been brought bang up to date. The tour is pretty much pitched at the curious novice with little or no knowledge. For that market, it is a fabulous lesson in the chemistry of beer. I spoke to a couple of people afterwards who found it really informative. For me (a relative novice with a modicum of knowledge), I would have liked more detail. For one thing, I asked a basic question about the cost of the refurb. The guide didn’t have the answer to hand. Things like that should be standard. With just a little extra polish, what was quite a good tour, could be a lot better.

2. Robbies are obviously on the rise, both nationally and internationally. The hook up with Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden is VERY astute. This could help Robbies penetrate abroad with that HUGE Iron Maiden fan base and also into live music venues. There has been a big push with Trooper and in all likelihood, it will pay off. Massively.

Moving onwards and (literally) upwards, we popped back into the Spoons to meet up with some more people and (after a nice pint of George Wrights Mild & a sour pint of Titanic Mild – taken off on mentioning!) we were off to….

The Crown

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(A Stockport Institution)

A lovely old pub. Lots of leather and wood inside with a vast number of handpumps (too many to count!), I plumped for a pint of Millstone Stout and we eventually settled our, now enlarged group into the room to the right of the bar – where lurked two handpulls dedicated to real cider.

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(rear room)

The Millstone Stout at 4.5% was lovely. Creamy full texture, slight coffee in that nice roasted flavour with a dry finish. A really good stout. and just what was needed.

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(Nice & busy on a Saturday afternoon!)

The consensus was to move on at this point. So that’s what we did!

The Magnet

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Another pub after my own heart. Multi-roomed with a plethora of handpulls. Busy again with chatter the order of the day (as well as Tittertons Pork Pies!). Well behaved dogs allowed in as well, which was a nice touch. Busy at the bar, I plumped for a BlackJack Canasta Mild at 3.8% abv. Dark, buttery roasted aroma with a nice texture, lots of roasted malt flavour with a nice dry finish.

20130518_173826(Busy bar – lots of handpulls!)

Ina slightly lower level was a pool table, where we settled our rabble down to a game of killer. I lost (as you would expect!). The pub has a lot going for it, lots of good beer and choice of rooms with different atmospheres. The only slight issue I had, was there was a little wear and tear showing, especially with the plaster work. I wonder if the money is available to do this work? Not to take away too much from what is an excellent boozer.

We stayed for one more here, so I had an Oakham beer. Sock Monkey at 5% abv. Golden and bright, a citrus grapefruit aroma from what I thought was citra hops, a lovely mouthful of biscuity sweetness balanced with a grapefruit hoppyness. Typically Oakham, typically excellent. If we hadn’t stayed, I probably wouldn’t have spotted the nice decking area outside!

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(Well. Summer IS on the way. Isn’t it?)

Back to Manchester on Northern Rails’ finest. A quick snack from Sainsbury in Piccadilly station and off to a pub I’ve not been to in yonks!

The Bulls Head

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Judging by the beer selection, this is a Marstons pub. Fortunately for me, Jaz had chosen wisely and got me a pint of Marstons Single Hop Amarillo at 4% abv. Pale, gold and with abundant fruity hop aroma. Nice and refreshing. 2nd Single hop Marstons I’ve had recently. Enjoyed both.

Last time I came in, the pub was two roomed. Now it’s one open space with the large bar to the rear. Nice leaded windows, muted dark colours, reds and browns, quite warm feeling. Nice slightly elevated are to the front with (what looked like) a real fire range.

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It was here that the group split up. Some for home, some for food and some (guess who?) for Joshua Brooks! (Via Jaz flat to drop bottles off – amazed they got back!)

Joshua Brooks

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The magnet that pulled us in was the Baby Belgian by Offbeat Brewery. At 8% I bottled it (not literally – I’d have spilt some!), the indefatigable Jaz went that way, I went for the Last Porter Call by Titanic. Fruity, very fruity. Damsons or plums. Not much discernable roasty stuff going on. But then, it WAS late in the day! A nice beer at 4.9%.

Oakham Brewery Bishops Farewell was next. 2 Oakham in one day. Yay! Again, pale, hoppy and balanced with sweet biscuit malt. Another Oakham, another excellent pale bitter brew!

One more for my baby and one for the road. The baby in question, being another Baby Belgian for Jaz the Indefatigable (now looking rather fatigued!), the one for the road being Obsidian black IPA by Hop Studio from York. As far as the stuff in bars goes, the beer of the day. Both citrus AND coffee on the nose with bitter hops in the mouth and a slightly bitter coffee in the aftertaste. REALLY good this!

I know what to expect from Joshua Brooks (as should you, by now!) Tonight was fairly busy again, with a few coming in just before I left, for a beer prior to going downstairs to the club. More excellent beer.

At this point, I had to dash for my chariot. Past lots of young things on their way to JBs

An excellent day out, finished off nicely. The Old parts of Stockport are actually rather pretty, nice town. Hope to be back soon to explore more.

Beer of the day. Unfair really, but it was the taste of Saison from Quantum. Lovely. In the pubs it was Obsidian by Hop Studio. An excellent Black IPA. Last beer of the evening as well. How weird is that!

On that note….If you, like I, are at the BlackJack MTB at Port Street on Monday, say hello! If not….’til next time…

Slainte!