My Golden Pints 2013

Golden Pints Logo(Bloody Conformist!)

15 1/2 months ago, I decided that there weren’t enough people talking bollocks about beer, so I decided to join them by talking even MORE bollocks about it! What have I learned in that time?

1. That people LOVE talking bollocks about beer in even greater numbers than 15 1/2 months ago, and

2. That there are some lovely people in that number.

Last year, I just listed my favourite draught (NOT DRAFT!!!!) and bottled beers, because I didn’t know what I was doing. This year, I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I thought I would expend more words by following the acknowledged format! So, at 06:00 on Monday 23/12/2013, here goes….

  • Best UK Cask beerAllgates Brewery  – Quaker House Oatmeal Stout – Yes Tyson, you guessed correctly! Simply the best Stout I think I have ever tasted. Can I be accused of bias because (along with Tandleman & Tyson The Beerhound) I helped to brew it (well, stir the mash and shovel out the Mash Tun!), yes I can. Am I? No. I double checked on numerous occasions with my Jiminy Cricket (Jaz, the “Arch-Nemesis’) and he agreed and he’s NOT biased. A gloriously roasted, bitter, hoppy and luxuriously smooth alchemical concoction nursed to glorious fruition by Jonathan Provost, David Mayhall and the guys at Allgates. My proudest moment of the last 14 years. Thank you. (Honourable Mentions – Buxton Brewery – Imperial Black. Simply astonishingly good one night at Port Street, and Weird Beard – Black Perle. At 3.5%, simply WOW. A gorgeous Coffee Milk Stout at the strength)
  • Best UK Keg Beer – Ilkley BreweryDinner Ale – Unlike the vast majority of the beery blogosphere, I am not particularly well-travelled. My drinking has been pretty much limited to the North and – in particular – to cask conditioned and bottled beers. However, thanks to the miracles of Beer Festivals and the mighty Port Street Beer House, I have managed to sample a number of UK kegged beers, some absolute crackers among them. However, the one that stood out was Dinner Ale at the Leeds International Beer Festival. The most zingy and refreshing keg beer I’ve had all year. Refreshing is a quality that is seriously underrated.
  • Best UK Bottled or Canned BeerRevolutions BrewingManifesto – Creamy, luxurious, bitter chocolate, espresso, smoky, warming. Simply a classy strong Stout brewed without fanfare and just damn great. I love it and I love Revolutions Music & Beer ethos. Short and sweet (for a change!) (Honourable mention to Weird Beard – Decadence Stout. Bloody gorgeous bitter and hoppy Stout)
  • Best Overseas Draught Beer – Brouwerij Emelisse – Imperial Stout (Sorachi Ace) – Bought by the arch-nemesis at The Marble Arch at the end of a refreshing evening. Vinous yet delicate. Brutal yet gentle. I was astonished at the delicate flavours of this beer. Light and floral yet with all the heft of an Impy Stout. Do I have a clue what I’m talking about? Probably not, but I enjoyed it hugely.
  • Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer – Not really my bag….Next!
  • Best Collaboration Brew – Allgates Brewery  – Quaker House Oatmeal Stout – For the reasons above stated. It was a Collaboration and the best beer I have had this year, therefore….
  • Best Overall Beer – Allgates Brewery  – Quaker House Oatmeal Stout  – By definition….
  • Best Branding, Pumpclip or LabelWeird Beard – Just superb design which would fail utterly if it wasn’t backed up by a consistently superb product. “Follow The Beard” indeed…..(Honourable mention to Bad Seed Brewery – Just minimal and classy)
  • Best UK BreweryAllgates Brewery – From my first sip of All Black Mild, I fell in love. Simply great drinkable beer. Consistently tasty, consistently excellent and immensely good value . Beer brewed without compromise but with that sometimes elusive quality. Sheer drinkability. Another underrated quality. (HUGE Honourable mentions to Five Towns, Mallinsons, Revolutions (all Yorkshire), Quantum & Wilson Potter from whom I’ve always drunk exceptional beer)
  • Best Overseas Brewery – I envy others better travelled than I. No Opinion.
  • Best New Brewery Opening 2013 – Bad Seed Brewery – Given that many of the beers I have drunk this year are from breweries new to me, I COULD have cheated. However, Bad Seed launched this year and whilst I have had nothing on draught by them, their bottles have been nothing short of first-rate. Chuffed to bits that they seem to be getting wide distribution. Let’s have something from them on cask in 2014! (HM to Five Points – All 3 beers being superb)
  • Pub/Bar of the Year – I’m going to cheat. I’m going for a bar AND a pub. BarJoshua Brooks (Manchester) – I could easily give this to Port Street Beer House. Many would and justifiably so. But I am contrary. I LOVE Joshua Brooks. Yes its a big old space. But it ticks loads of my boxes. Comfy seating, great tunes, friendly staff and a simply fabulous beer selection (recently upped to 8 handpulls I believe). And also the best damn value in Manchester on a Friday night. £2.70 a pint! For cracking cask conditioned ales from the greatest and the best breweries in the UK.  Pub Hare & Hounds (Hindley, Wigan) – The local I never had. Just a humble local boozer (Allgates) with a real fire, a dartboard, friendly locals and a landlady and landlord (Nigel & Adele) who keep an excellent pint and a friendly welcome. I just feel at home here and that’s what a good pub should be about. (Wigan CAMRA branch. Sort yourselves out and get this pub into the GBG. A travesty!)
  • Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013Pie & Ale by Bakerie (Manchester) – A tad expensive on occasion perhaps, but great beer (mostly local) selection kept well. A great bar, deservedly popular (great pies too!)
  • Beer Festival of The Year – I was going to go for the Allgates Road To Wigan Beer which was, quite simply, the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on this year and introduced me to breweries I’ve seen nowhere else (Bexar County Brew anyone?) and the bus journey was something to behold. If it runs again (the bus) you simply must try and get on it! However, I’m going to go all soft and go for IndyManBeerCon. Fabulous location, great beer, excellent entertainment. Met some lovely people and enjoyed the festival hugely. Yes, I had some issues, which I hope have been taken on board, but they shouldn’t (and don’t) detract from what was a great feat. More breweries for 2014 please!
  • Supermarket of the YearBooths. Knocks everyone else in the North into a cocked hat. Including Waitrose,
  • Independent Retailer of the Year – Yorkshire Ales – Probably the most difficult category to call for me. I genuinely agonised over this. There are some truly excellent retailers over this side of the hill, Damian O’Shea (Ale Man Manchester), Beermoth, The Liquor Shop as well as the Bierhuis in Ossett. Honourable mentions to all. BUT. Adrian & Vicky Pettit have a lovely little shop in Snaith with an emphasis on local produce. It’s this local ethos that swings it for me, They’re damn nice people too.
  • Online Retailer of the Year – I’m lucky. I shop local and in person. No Opinion.
  • Best Beer Book or Magazine Opening Times (South Manchester CAMRA)- From Pub Curmudgeon to Stagger, just a great read.
  • Best Beer Blog or WebsiteGlenn Johnson’s blog. – Neither flash nor fancy. Just descriptions good beer (mostly!) in pubs that I’d love to go in, in places I’m unlikely to visit. Whilst I’m spoilt in Greater Manchester, I’m still jealous. (HMs to David Mayhall (his evisceration of Brew Dog “Equity For Punks” being the single most retweeted RT I’ve put out!) Nathaniel Southwood who manages the feat of being informative whilst making me chuckle repeatedly, Tandleman & Tyson I doff my cap to both! I wish I wrote as well as all of these fellas)
  • Best Beer AppPerfect Pint. Tells me what beer is currently on in my favourite pubs. Works for me!
  • Simon Johnson Award For Best Beer Twitterer – The mighty Nathaniel Southwood. Smart, opinionated, witty, frequently ranting. Always spot on. (HM to JazzyJollyJaunt without whose inspiration (and tolerance!) I wouldn’t be doing this. Thank you.)
  • Best Brewery Website/Social Media Weird Beard
  • Food and Beer Pairing of the Year – Black Country Pork Scratchings and Hobsons Twisted Spire at the River & Rail in Hampton Loade on the banks of the Severn. Time and place. I am a rather simple soul!

Well. That’s it from me. There’s a lot of good beer out there. Let’s hope for even more in 2014. Have a great festive season.

Slainte!

From Grain To Glass – Allgates Quaker House Oatmeal Stout – Joshua Brooks 05/07/2013

20130705_185804(Congratulations Boys – You’re now the proud fathers of a bouncing baby beer!)

The journey began some time in May. when yours truly stumbled across an offer to two noted beer bloggers/writers Tyson the Beerhound and Tandleman from David Mayhall co-owner of Allgates Brewery in Wigan, being naturally curious and a bit of a cheeky blagger(sic), I finagled an invite from Mr Mayhall and so, on the 8th of June, I found myself along With Tyson, Tandleman, David and Jonathan Provost (head brewer) making a beer (read all about it) !

David and Jonathan kept the three of us regularly updated on the progress of the brew and, as the weeks went on, anticipation grew. The aim was to make an Oatmeal Stout at around 5% abv, but to make it hoppy. At the end of the brew day, David generously offered each of the three of us a firkin of the beer for us to sell to the pub/bar of our choice, the proceeds to go to a charity of our choice.

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My choices were fairly simple and were given on the spot. I wanted the beer to go to Joshua Brooks and the charity to be St Anns Hospice in Little Hulton. Joshua Brooks, because it is my favourite bar in Manchester. Over the last year, since I first visited the place, I’ve developed a fondness for the place. The ales are kept well by the managers James, Jon & Nicola, there’s lots of lovely leather seating, the background music is pretty much always to my taste and the beer is excellent value.

I chose St Anns Hospice because nearly 2 years ago, when my Dad passed away from Stomach Cancer, they gave fantastic support (along with Macmillan) to both Dad and us in his last few days. I’m not one to normally support health charities as I am a firm and passionate believer in, and advocate of, the NHS. However, the people at St Anns do a fantastic job in extremely trying and emotional circumstances.

As I said earlier, we were kept updated about the progress of the beer and started to look forward to the day when it was released “into the wild”. Tandleman was the lucky sod who got to taste it first in a pub. He sold his firkin to the CAMRA National Pub of The Year, The Baum, in Rochdale and tasted it on Tuesday before, during and after his local CAMRA Branch meeting. His report whetted my appetite. He’s no mug, and he committed his thoughts on the beer to his excellent blog. Read it here

Tyson has sold his firkin to Trackside in Bury (the bar at the East Lancashire Railway station) and it may hit the bar on Tuesday or Wednesday, I hope to sample it there myself .

However, mine went to Joshua Brooks. I asked that, if possible, it could go on on Friday 05/07/2013 as I REALLY didn’t want to come to Manchester on a school night and have to restrain myself! However, when James tweeted the message on Thursday evening “It’s on!”, I was mortified. I desperately wanted to taste this beer in Joshua Brooks. Some friends also wanted to try it, so we arranged to meet in the pub at 19:00. I felt like an expectant father pacing up and down on a Maternity Ward!

As myself, Colin and his lovely wife Sue entered, it looked quite busy. With a cheery word from the doorman, I hastened to the bar where, someone else had ordered a pint. Irrationally, panic set in. Was there any left? Of course, I needn’t have worried, as the usual dimpled pint mug met the swan neck and the beer was pulled.

20130705_202852(Come to Daddy!)

Black, with a reassuring off white creamy head and a lovely subtle chocolate aroma, initial sensory information was promising much. In the mouth, Daddy was a very proud man indeed! A gorgeously creamy texture, lovely chocolaty notes with a dry, quite bitter hoppy finish. I think it’s safe to say that we achieved what we set out to do. We helped to create a quite creamy, dry & hoppy stout. It is a truly lovely beer that is right up my personal beer street. Conversing with Jaz, whose opinions on beer are usually spot on, summed it up for me. He labelled it as a 5 Star beer. He doesn’t rate many as 5 Star!

Those who drank it really enjoyed it and it was gratifying to receive universally excellent feedback. I was a relieved, happy and refreshed man.

20130705_185753(A cracking line up!)

The was an excellent beery lineup as usual. With beers from Allgates (Gin Pit), Ilkley (The Mayan) and the excellent Privateer (Vanilla Jack), there was plenty of choice for me and my pals.

After another Quaker House, I opted for a Gin Pit and The Mayan. Rather strangely, the Gin Pit had virtually no head but tasted superb, with more of the slightly astringent juniper flavour than I recalled when I had it at Trackside. A nice refreshing pint, as is standard from Allgates.

Sue, on returning from the conveniences, told me that there were some artists creating a mural on the walls with marker pens. Intrigued, I had a look….

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(The full wall)

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(Detail – Note the Kim Jong Il lookalike!)

….I had a chat with the two guys who were creating the “Muriel” (ah…Hilda Ogden…). I can’t speak for all, but this looks superb.

The Mayan was a beast of a different hue. A chocolate and chipotle chilli stout at 6.5% abv. Black, with a creamy head (both colour and texture) and huge dark chocolate aroma. Lovely and creamy, lots of chocolate, slightly smoky with a gentle spice heat building the deeper I waded in. First time for me with this beer. I’ve previously seen excellent reports from others on this beer. All justified.

After having the Mayan, I bottled it with the Privateer Vanilla Jack not thinking I could do it justice after such a big beer. Colin gave it a big thumbs up and I will drink that one soon, especially as they’re brewing it again. I decided therefore to venture back to the beery cradle for another Quaker House. Mmmm…lovely!

Me and Jaz Quaker House(Cheers!)

A swift incidental half of Harbour Pale Ale (keg) from Cornwall was my final at JB. Hazy and pale with a lovely mango and grapefruit nose and and really refreshing citrus flavours in the mouth. A really good beer and surprisingly refreshing for a 6% abv beer, nicely balanced. (I DO like an incidental!)

Having heard from Nate Dawg, another excellent beer blogger that there might be some beers from Redwell (new Craft brewer from Norfolk) on in Font, I thought we’d better pop in!

Font was as busy as usual. No sign of the Redwell. Maybe it was in bottles, but I wasn’t in a bottle mood. I spied a Pale Ale Citra by Quantum and looked no further. 4.5% abv and er….pale, more Citra mango and grapefruit aroma. Lovely and smooth, lots of citrus flavours and a nice bitter dry finish. Another belter from Mr Krause.

I hadn’t been to Paramount for a while to have my Paramount (Elland 1872) Porter nightcap, so, I did. It is what it is, this beer. Chocolate, coffee, smoke and OH SO creamy and delicious. A deserved award winner and a permanent at Paramount. £2.60 a pint. It felt like I was stealing it!

With Colin & Sue being my chaperones and guaranteeing my safe return home, we headed off for the usual First Bus chariot. The No 37!

An excellent evening with some of my best friends. My baby tasted superb. Excellent conversations and fun lubricated by superb beer. Tandleman would most certainly approve!

(Courtesy of the generosity of David Mayhall, Allgates Brewery & those nice people at Joshua Brooks, a substantial donation will be delivered to At Anns Hospice tomorrow. A sincere thanks to all involved.)

On that note….’til next time (probably a Bristol pubs write-up)

Slainte!

The Birth Of A Beer – Allgates Brewery 08/06/2013

allgates_brewery_logo

Sometimes, life is indeed full of surprises.

A few weeks back, I blundered into a Twitter conversation between Tandleman, Tyson the Beerhound, Jay Krause (Quantum Brewing) and David Mayhall from Allgates Brewery. During this conversation, a “collaboration brew” was mooted. I, being a bit of a cheeky scamp, asked if I could tag along. I even volunteered to be the ‘teaboy’. Surprisingly, David invited me in. Shocked and excited in equal measure, I tapped in “08/06/2013 – Allgates” into my calendar.

In case you haven’t been reading this blog recently, I like Allgates beers. A lot. Clean, crisp and (mostly) hop forward they inhabit the space between 3 – 5% abv and are really refreshing, dark or pale. I was introduced to them by my arch-nemesis Jaz (who else) who himself is a fan. He’s rarely wrong in his beer tastes! They have a small (yet perfectly formed) tied estate within the Wigan area and each pub has its own character. They also have a superb selection of guest beers in their pubs. Worth a visit in other words!

Anyhow, with a start time of 09:00 agreed, I pulled away early from an evenings debauchery with the aforementioned Jaz, in order to get me some ugly sleep.

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My main worry (a bit late!) as I approached the brewery, was an utter absence of technical knowledge. Basically, my knowledge of hop properties could be detailed on the wing of a gnat.

Knocking at the door, I was let in by Jonathan, the head brewer. A busy man, he brought me upstairs where, chatting merrily, were Tyson & Tandleman. Jay (unfortunately) had taken ill and couldn’t make it. David, the co-owner then arrived and we had a chat about how the day would go, from the grist (the malt/oats) to the hop selection and all things in between.

Jonathan suggested a grist comprising 175kg pale malt (Maris Otter), 10kgs each of roasted barley and chocolate malt, 25kgs of malted oats and 8kgs of torrified wheat (for head retention. That being agreed (I nodded dumbly!) we set off to the top of the world – or, at least, the brewery!

20130608_092525(More grist to Tandleman’s mill!)

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(That’s 228kg – right there!)

Having loaded the dry goods, we moved downstairs to the mash tun. The hot liquor (water – to lesser mortals, like me) was set at a ‘strike temperature’ of 73.6 C and as the water started to fill the tun, the grist was released. Now. I don’t know about you, but 228kg is a LOT of grist! It took quite a while to fall into the tun! There was a lot of (ahem) encouragement required for the chute to help the malt down.

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(Liquor & grist into the Mash Tun)

Whilst all the malted goodies were loading into the tun, a vigorous mashing was required to avoid any clumping of the malts – especially with the oats. This was done manually and we all had a go. Needless to say, Jonathan’s technique was far superior! (Tandleman was none too shabby though!)

20130608_094540(Now give it a reet good stir!)

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(Mmmm….My kind of porridge!)

With 535 litres of hot liquor in that mash tun, we had a mash temperature of just over 65C and it was getting steamy! Really enjoyed the manual mashing, but it was bloody hard work. They don’t just twiddle their thumbs, these brewers, oh no.

Then, with that done, another type of brew was required whilst due consideration was given to hop selection. After a bit of discussion (with zero input from yours truly!), Jonathan decided to go with Amarillo and Ahtanum for “first wort hopping”, Galena and Warrior for bitterness and more Amarillo and Ahtanum with additional Nelson Sauvin for aroma. A heady mix.

Prior to transfer to the copper and the addition of any hops, Jonathan poured off a little of the wort. Black, quite oaty and only slightly sweet. This was tasting promising!

20130608_111320(The wort – courtesy of The Arm of Tyson!)

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(FUN Time! The hop store!)

Once ready, Jonathan took a hydrometer reading to determine the Original Gravity of this “beer”. A slightly high 1051, this was “liquored back” (more hot liquor added) slightly to achieve the desired gravity of 1049 prior to transfer to the copper. Just prior to this, the mash was ‘sparged’ (water sprayed into the mash) to extract as much of the sugar as possible from the fermentable material.

20130608_110918(The sparge arm does its stuff)

The wort (not as sweet as I imagined) was transferred to the copper (where, in boiling, the hops release their goodness!) Once the wort was transferred, the first wort hops were added. A little bit of light work for yours truly. These were Amarillo and Ahtanum and 1/2 kg went in at this stage for smoothness of flavour.

20130608_112009(In go the first hops)

This initial addition is something that Allgates have been trying recently with excellent results. A little break for some light refreshment (thank you David!) and a nice couple of halves of Calico Deep and Ostara (I ADORE the Ostara and want her to have my babies!). During this, Jonathan added the first bittering hops, 1/2 kg each of Galena and Warrior (Galena being a particularly good hop with Stouts, I’m advised)

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(Jonathan The Alchemist – with his book of beery spells!)

With the wort now transferred to the copper, you start to appreciate why these brewers are so fit. Time for shovels! That there below, is 228kg of dry grist, soaked. And hot. That is about 2-3 feet deep and a hell of a lot of weight. It was shovelled from the mash tun into sacks which got winched downstairs for myself, Tandleman and Tyson to hump into drums outside. The spent grains get picked up by a (presumably VERY strong) farmer who uses it as feed for his animals – lucky devils!

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20130608_131548(Messy, heavy work!)

Each sack must have weighed at least 40kg + that’s nearly half a TON! David and Jonathan hooked up the sacks to the winch and we emptied them into the drums (probably the source of my sore shoulder this morning!!!)

At approximately 14:00 Jonathan added the final bittering hops (Warrior and Galena again) before, at 14:35, the final (aroma) hop addition of Nelson Sauvin, Ahtanum and Amarillo. Not long afterwards, we were ready to transfer to the Fermenting Vessel.

20130608_140023(Control panel. Boil Temp? 99.9C!)

20130608_150544(The Heat Exchanger)

The wort (now featuring some hoppy goodness) transfers to the FV via a clever piece of kit called the Heat Exchanger. The heat from the wort is partly removed (from 100C to 21C  and heats water in the opposite direction, headed to the Hot Liquor Tank. A very clever piece of energy-saving kit indeed!

20130608_153518(Party Time!)

The wort having been transferred into FV #1, it was time to let the yeast have a party! Tandleman had this pleasure. A quick wet with some wort (no, not Tandleman!) and in it went, the FV was closed and (with some cleaning up – kindly, David and Jonathan did this!) we were done. Back to the bar for an Ostara to cool down!

And the beer? It is going to be a hoppy Oatmeal Stout at around 4.9% abv. Lovely and dark with (no doubt) plenty of chocolate and oaty character. It is likely to be a one-off (although there could possibly be a second take at some point – there’s more oat malt!).

I’m quite excited to see how the Amarillo will work in a stout. It smelled superb in the brewery. Should be released in about 3-4 weeks. I’ll be having some (but then, Tandleman, Tyson and myself may know where some of it may be going!). Come release, I’ll let you all know!

I think I can speak for us all, this was a brilliant way to spend a Saturday. I learned loads. You do tend to when you’re actually involved, rather than listening to a tour guide. I even learned a little about hop properties! I’m a very lucky boy indeed and very grateful to David and Jonathan for their generosity and patience. We were fed, (definitely) watered and I had a fantastic time, which I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. (Try the Calico Deep – Dark – and the Ostara if you get the chance. You won’t be disappointed!)

The generosity bit? Well, for one, I was invited. Second, lunch was superb, courtesy of David and his local Booths! Third (and a total surprise this) David is letting us have 3 firkins of the finished beer, 1 each for Tandleman, Tyson and myself to raise money for the chosen charity of each. Mine being St Anns Hospice in Little Hulton who gave fabulous care to Dad in his final days. A more than worthwhile cause. Thank you David for your generosity, hospitality and patience, Jonathan for your patience and skill and all 4 (inc Tandleman and Tyson) for taking this beer drinker to school!

It was great to meet Tandleman and Tyson. I had met the former at Wilson Potter brewery some months before (another brewery we both like), but didn’t get to chat much. We were both (ahem) ‘refreshed’ and I was just about to head to Manchester. A veritable mine of beery wisdom and a bloody nice bloke. I hadn’t met Tyson previously, but another beery good guy who, again, knows loads about beer. David and Jonathan were still quite busy, so we decided to get out of their hair and nip over to the Anvil for a wee one!

Excellent fruity pint of California followed by a pint of the gorgeous dark and smooth AllBlack mild. During the second, David and Jonathan called in, unaware we were there. I just sat back and listened to the guys chat. An absolute pleasure.

So, there you go. I can honestly say, that in about 4 weeks time, I will have taken an active part in the creation of something that I will see pouring from a handpump. From Grain To Glass. To me, it will feel really special. And trust me, this beer will TASTE special too. But of course, I’m biased. I worship the Dark Side!

Back to Wallgate station with Tyson & Tandleman and a walk up the hill.

On that note…’til next time…

Slainte!

‘Manchester. A Beer Is Born!’ JW Lees Manchester Pale Ale Launch / Joshua Brooks 17/04/2013

So. A random e-mail leads me to the VERY windy streets of Manchester and a clearing of my schedules to taste a new beer by Middleton based JW Lees. This being held in Rain Bar (Rainy City – geddit!), bizarrely, Lees’ sole outlet in the centre of Manchester.

Rain Bar(pic – fancyapint.com)

The entrance to the bar was cordoned, this being a private function, so wristbands on, er, wrists, myself and my arch-nemesis Jaz set off to the bar where conversation was already flowing (Well, Tandleman was at the bar too, so it would be!). We settled ourselves down to watch the slide show of iconic Manchester photographs that had been pulled together by Kevin Cummins.

Opened by Lees in 1999, I must have walked past this warehouse on numerous occasions in the 80s without paying it any mind. The name, the industrial link, the minimalism of all that exposed brickwork. It’s Manchester to its core this place. I like it.

The evening was beginning to take shape with the appearance at the bar of Kevin Cummins, Mark Radcliffe and Bez, the latter pair putting in a publicity shoot appearance behind it on the pumps.

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(I’m sure young Radcliffe’s in there somewhere!)

The Manchester themed canapes (the Black Pudding parcels were tremendous!) were doing the rounds as William Lees-Jones gave us a presentation on the beer and what inspired it. A pale beer with initial fresh hoppy aroma, easy drinking at 3.7% abv and quite refreshing, it evolved from a couple of the seasonals that the brewery released in 2011/2012. The intention – according to W L-J – is to push this nationally. It has been a while since a Manchester beer had such a presence nationally and I wish them well. (BTW – I preferred the draught markedly over the bottled version, which is slightly different and is 4.1%)

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(Manchester Pale Ale – Take a Bow!)

Williams’ speech over, Mark Radcliffe took over and was hugely entertaining (isn’t he always?) and hosted a 10 question quiz, with the prize being a years’ supply of the beer (and a years’ supply of curry too!). I lasted 5 questions!

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(The WRONG answer!)

Quiz over, the genial Bez took over custodianship of the decks and the Manchester tunes got funkier “Shack Up” by A Certain Ratio? Oh yes, back to my youth!

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(And The Bottled Version)

Quite a distinctive branding and label for this beer, which stands out from other Lees products. Simple and explanatory, which may help in the supermarket off-trade.

An enjoyable evening made better by chatting to a couple of Lees’ publicans from different generations. One from the Ring O’Bells in Middleton and a young couple from The Victoria in Holmes Chapel. Good company both.

The whole presentation was slick and firmly rooted in Manchester. The photographs were stunning (all from local amateurs), the quiz (even as A or B) was fiendishly difficult and the music was superb (even if it drifted away from Manc artists toward the end!)

A good launch. Wish them well. (Now then, where IS that bottle of Manchester Star?) And thank you to Niamh from Tangerine PR for the invites!

Collecting our ‘goodie bags’ (I’m a sucker for these things!), myself and Jaz sloped off for t’watch us some footie. This led us to ……

Joshua Brooks.

Last night was possibly unique for me. A ‘Freehouse’ with 5 outstandingly good ales on the bar. AND 4 OF THEM WERE DARKS!!!! As Van Morrison once sang “I’m in HEAVEN’!

20130417_200443(The Dark Side indeed!)

Being a glutton for punishment, I sampled them all.

First up was the ‘Liquid Mint Aero’ that is Thornbridge Baize. 5.5% abv, black with a minty and vanilla aroma. A gloriously well balance stout with more than a hint of mint (poetry comes as standard!) and chocolate without being cloyingly sweet. A hell of an achievement this beer!

Next, one of the two darks on from Titanic Brewery. Firstly the Cappuccino Stout at 4.5%. I raved about this when I first had this last year. Lovely stout with some nice coffee bitterness.

Next was Darkness by the relentlessly excellent Dark Star brewery. A black IPA at the low abv of 3.5%, a superb achievement to get so much flavour into such a low alcohol beer, coffeeish, citrussy, confounding. But a reaaaaally nice beer.

Finally, Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout. Again, as with the Cappuccino, this uses Titanic’s dry Stout as the basis and runs off in another direction. Smooth an dreamily creamy. Choccy, Ice Creamy, I just adore this beer. It’s up there with Triple Chocoholic by Saltaire and Dark Arts by Magic Rock for me. It completes my ‘Holy Trinity’ of stouts!

Nice to chat with James again and even better when United drop points (WHAT a goal by Diame!) and The Blues slutch a win against Wigan.

With the beer selection that JBs has, allied to the superb condition in which it is always served, this bar should be packed night after night. I don’t know when drinkers are going to catch up, but, until they do, I’ll pick my favourite leather chair, enjoy the excellent tunes and sink a pint or three!

An excellent evening, as ever, with Mr Jaz with some excellent beers all told!

On that note…..Until next time….

Slainte!