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 Toast To An Old Friend 24/04/2013

I went to 6th form college over 30 years ago.Whilst there, I met some great people who went on to become good close friends. Some of us drifted apart through work and geography. Two such people were Martin ‘Doigy’ & Jan Doig. Good people, caring, loving and friendly. And utterly devoted to each other. About two years ago, social media placed us back in contact and we’d shoot the breeze on Facebook (with Doigy) and Twitter (with Jan).

Eventually, an opportunity was engineered to meet up and we did this in The Knott. To my delight, they hadn’t changed. Then living in Cambridgeshire, geographically we were separated, but culturally, we were of a piece. For his sins, Doigy had become an avid beer ‘ticker’ who maintained a meticulous list of the beers he tasted. To my joy, he was also a devotee of “The Dark Side”. Milds, Stouts and Porters were his thing, as they are mine. Doigy also had a love of Northern Soul music, another of my passions. Doigy, Jan & I spent a pleasant couple of hours in The Knott and I made a loose approach to Doigy to come and join Me & Jaz at an upcoming beer festival.

Sadly, we buried Martin on 25/10/2011. He was 47. A good, extremely fit man taken in his prime.

Yesterday would have been his 49th birthday, so along with two of his good friends, Col & Jaz (who knew him far better than I) we met up on his birthday to toast his life and memory with 3 particular bottled beers and to visit two Manchester pubs that he would’ve adored.

doigy spud jan jc(Doigy wasn’t ALWAYS that small! Pic – courtesy of Bob The Chiropodist)

Colin & I started our deliberations a touch earlier, with a beer Doigy would’ve enjoyed. In The Black from Wilson Potter at The Salford Arms. This is the first time that I’ve had this 4.2% stout in ‘the wild’. It didn’t disappoint. Smooth creamy and lovely mocha ish flavours.

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(In The Black indeed!)

He keeps a good pint does Tom. Great to see their beer in Manchester now. A swift pint of another beer from another of my favourite brewers, Dainty Blonde by Privateer. Pale, delicately floral with a hint of elderflower. Really refreshing. Now we had to move on. We said a hasty farewell to Tom and headed to Jaz’s bachelor pad!

The most abiding legend about Doigy was The Toast Mountain. He simply loved his toast. This love was used as a jump off point for some home brewing friends to create a beer in his honour. The obvious name for this beer (a stout, of course!) was ‘Doigys Toast‘. It was therefore most appropriate that this should be the first beer of the evening.

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(‘Doigys Toast‘. A Toast to the Toastmeister!)

Made by a home brewer noted as “Bradys Brews”,rather scarily there is no %abv noted, but a very dark brown to black beer came out of the bottle with abundant cream coloured, but quickly dissipating head. This one scared me, because I was worried, that having had it for so long in storage, it would be like Sarsons. Pleased to say that it was anything but! A deep dark aroma of licorice and spice, a thin texture, but more licorice in the mouth and a chocolate tinge. Just a little. Tasted a touch ‘yeasty’ toward the end, but all-in-all a decent beer with which to toast a decent man.

We moved on to a beer that Doigy stated was his favourite. Mrs Simpsons Thriller in Vanilla by Brown Cow Brewery 5.1% abv

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(His all-time favourite)

A very dark brown beer. Again, the head quickly vanished. A hint of vanilla in the aroma and (possibly?) treacle. Slightly thin in the mouth, but lovely roasted malt flavours, slight bitterness with a vanilla twist. Not as ‘full-on’ as some vanilla beers, but nice for all that.

Next (and last of the bottles) is Bad Kitty Vanilla Porter by Brass Castle Brewery 5.5% abv

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Doigy would have loved this beer! Black with more than a hint of vanilla, a touch of Bournville chocolate, not TOO bitter but plenty of nice dry vanilla, not too sweet though. The head again dissipated quite quickly, so probably wrong temperature or glassware issues, because, having had this before, lack of head wasn’t previously  problem. Despite that, this is still a damn fine beer. Both of the above were sourced from that excellent shop Yorkshire Ales in Snaith, East Yorkshire.

At this juncture, we went for a short walk to a bar that Doigy would’ve loved. The Port Street Beer House

A Mini Jaunt in Manchester - 21/09/2012

(recycled pic alert!)

Pretty much guaranteed a good pint in here. I was delighted to note that there was still some Citra from Oakham Ales  on, so at 4.2% I dived in. My first time for this beer on draught that I have loved from a distance in bottled version. Loads of citrus from the eponymous hop on a biscuity malt base. Yum! However, Col fancied a swap, so I then got the bonus of a Dark Star Brewing Carafa Jade. A red ale made with German Carafa barley and NZ Pacific Jade hops, this was a spicy zingy beer with lots of citrus hop aroma. Bloody lovely! They know their stuff in here. Good knowledgable bar staff serving excellent beer.

Just the one here, as The Crown & Kettle was calling!

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For my last of this evening, my eyes alighted on Off Kilter Porter by Offbeat Brewery of Crewe. Lovely and creamy black beer with lush choc and coffee in the mouth, maybe a spicy hop touch too. Really smooth and quite quite gorgeous.

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(Off Kilter going down well!)

Colin, having ordered the Rat In The Hat from the Rat Brewery, started to eye my Off Kilter Porter covetously. Being the kind of guy that I am (and in the spirit of the evening!) I swapped. The Cat was a nice fruity hoppy beer, golden in colour with a slight haze, refreshing.

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(Nice selection with 3 from Ossett)

That was that for another evening. Another excellent evening with good beer, good friends and good conversation. And doffing our collective caps to a top bloke.

On that note…’til next time…

Slainte Doigy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now, the Extra Rum Porter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20130125_142020[1](Digging that chandelier!)

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(The room behind the bar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Friday!

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

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

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

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

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

The beer….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slainte!