Wetherspoons International Beer Festival – 03/04/2014

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“I can’t stand by and see you destroyed, I can’t be here and watch you burn up.

Lie for the moment and lie as a decoy. Does it matter if I give in easy?

So why is it so hard to get by?”

(“Pounding” – Doves)

(Video link courtesy of mralan1969uk – YouTube)

To anybody who attends matches at The Etihad, Doves have had a special musical place – pre match – in City hearts. Jimi Goodwin is a Blue. Given the massive self-publicity of The Gallaghers being Blues, it is noticeable that it’s two Doves tracks that get played, the mighty Pounding and an instrumental of Words – both from the excellent album “The Last Broadcast”  – Proper tunes!

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A good Wetherspoons is like a barber or a dentist. When you get one that is well-managed, you never let it go! On this particular evening, my good friend Col & his lovely wife Sue fancied a nip to the local Spoons, especially as they were holding one of their regular “International Beer Festivals”. Ordinarily, having broken my Wetherspoon “fast”, I would have gone to Paramount or The Waterhouse in Manchester, but I don’t get out with these fine people much and good beer is more than enhanced when drunk in good company!

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Now this particular ‘Spoons, The Bulls Head in Walkden is one of their finer renovations. A substantial amount was spent on this place and -for an open plan pub – it really looks superb. Even though it is indeed open, there is a distinct feeling of separate drinking areas with some, obviously, being a Wetherspoon, more dedicated to the food offering. The main issue I have with this particular pub is the number of pumps that regularly have the “Coming Soon” label attached to the pump clips!

Tonight, however, only 1 was unused and surprisingly, being midweek, there were 4 (FOUR) of the “International” beers on. What the “I” word means in the context of this chain is that they get brewers from excellent breweries around the world to brew versions of their own beers at UK breweries. A great idea for those who might balk at paying substantial amounts for the likes of a Nogne O in its more usual “craft” bar habitat.

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Having decided that the four international beers were my choices for the evening, I set to. First, the Nogne O Brown Ale brewed at (and with) Batemans of Wainfleet, nr Skegness in Lincolnshire. I’m an enormous fan of their all too rare Mild, so I had high hopes for this!

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At 4.5% abv, this was a deep red/brown with a head that was creamy in both colour and texture with the aroma having a light chocolate note to it. The beer had a lovely full body with the flavours of light coffee and chocolate sharing palate space with a certain nutty flavour – hazelnut maybe? This wasn’t universally popular in our wee group, but I really liked it (and I’m no fan of Brown Ales!)

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Next on the menu for me was the Fermin Red Ale from Spain’s Alberto Pacheco at the Mateo y Bernabe Brewery from Rioja. This was brewed with Shepherd Neame in Faversham, Kent.

I seem to have moved on somewhat from this Faversham brewer, my tastes having gravitated away from their paler beers whilst holding a bit of a torch for their Porter which doesn’t seem to have the trademark “tang” that marks their pales.

This beer however was a belter, though hardly “Red”! More of a mid brown beer, this had an aroma full of foresty type fruit. In the mouth, at 5.8% abv, this unsurprisingly had a full body with the stand out flavour for me being plum, surprisingly, with a little sweetness complemented by a nice hoppy and bitter finish. Really enjoyed this one too.

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Moving swiftly on, next up was a beer from Wicked Weed Brewery – Sir Ryan The Pounder –  all the way from Asheville in North Carolina, this being brewed at Everards in Leicester. An amber/red beer this had a white head and quite a spritzy lemony aroma which was a pleasant surprise and at 4.7% was substantially lower in alcohol than the beers between which it was sandwiched! Smooth, medium-bodied with a light biscuit base danced on by juicy citrus hopping with lemon and grapefruit. Really tasty and well-balanced. My favourite of the evening.

The Klosterbock by Kloster-Scheyern in Bavaria was next and was brewed at Wadworth in Devizes, Wiltshire. At 6.5%, in hindsight, a pint of this was probably a mistake as I forgot that I really don’t get Bocks at all. Nothing wrong with this beer per se, just not my style. Really fruity and quite heavy feeling at the start, I warmed to it somewhat as the fruity flavours developed. But not my kind of beer really. Too sweet.

Whilst I’ve only rattled on about the beers, the evening was made really by being with good friends and having a really good chinwag, even if Sue gave me a yellow card for some rather fruity vernacular. I really don’t know what came over me!

In summary, a really nice surprise with the beer selection here tonight. All really well-kept and, to be fair, I’m yet to have a bad pint in this, my nearest ‘Spoons. Back soon.

On that note…’til next time…

Slainte!

Wetherspoons International Beer Festival – Bulls Head, Walkden 14/04/2013

Wetherspoons. take ’em or leave ’em, eh? Travelling the country frequently in the early noughties, I went in dozens of the blighters. Converted cinemas, converted banks, converted offices. Conversion after conversion. To be frank, the majority served one purpose. Cheap food. That’s because (other than a few isolated instances) the beer was mediocre. I learned which ones to trust and which to leave alone.

I can count the ones I trust on one hand. However, sometimes, you overlook what’s closest to you. So, using the Wetherspoons International Beer Festival as an excuse, I found myself entering The Bulls Head on Manchester Road in Walkden. A mile from my front door. And, to me at least, a rarity. A restored pub by JD Wetherspoon!

The Bulls Head

the-bull-s-head(Courtesy of  TripAdvisor)

In my mid to late teens, I had quite a few friends in Little Hulton, but, being a Salford lad, the Bulls Head was something I passed on the bus. I can only recall actually entering the pub once. It was a fairly grim place. A Whitbread plaything (from memory), it followed ‘fashion’ and was even named – at one point – “The Amsterdam Bar (with Sound and Light – I kid you not!) Some years later, after a stabbing in 2011, the pub was shut. It wasn’t the greatest of boozers, but Walkden could ill afford losing another pub.

Wetherspoons were rumoured to be having a presence in the newly developed Ellesmere Shopping Centre. To my surprise, they took on The Bull, spending a reputed £1.3 million on a total refurb.

They did a superb job.

It’s a large single floor space. Whilst – technically – a single room, it has the feel of multiple areas. Lots of area given up to eating, but a number of different areas within gives a bit of choice of where to settle. Lots of local history pieces on the walls. A map on the floor depicting the ‘hidden canals’ that were used to transport coal underground to the Bridgewater Canal for distribution on the canal network.

Being the International Beer Festival though, gave us a chance to sample some imported cask conditioned beers. So, what did I start with?

Marstons Single Hop – Pacific Gem!

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(That surprised ME as well!) A pale beer at 4% abv. This had a gentle lemony citrus aroma and maybe a hint of candied grapefruit. The flavour was light and subtle with more than a hint if citrus hop. Not had a Marstons beer for ages due to previous disappointments, but this was such a refreshing pint.

Devils Backbone Brewery – American Amber 4.8% abv

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The first of 3 ‘International’ beers this evening, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (but brewed for the fest at Adnams)! This red beer (or ‘deep copper’ if you prefer!) had a lovely American hop citrus aroma. This was a beltingly (new adjective?) lovely balanced beer with a big malt body offset by distinctively citrussy American hops. Lovely.

Good George Brewing – Pacific Pearl 5.5% abv

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Described in the tasting notes as ‘The Brewers take on a Black IPA’ – From Hamilton in New Zealand (but brewed in the UK for the festival by ex-Thornbridge brewer Kelly Ryan), this was a deep ruby to black coloured beer. A gentle fruity hop aroma to this one, but in the body there lurked a licorice like hop torpedo! Really nice this. So good that I had to have two!

Vasileostrovsky Brewery – Siberian Red 6% abv

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(forgot to snap!)

From St Petersburg (but brewed at Banks Brewery in Wolverhampton, this is a deep red coloured beer. Some blackberry on the nose. A full-flavoured fruity malt beer with some hoppy dryness in the finish. Red beers aren’t usually my thing, but I gave this a go for my sleeping draught and found that I really enjoyed it!

To sum up. The Bulls Head may not be everyone’s idea of a great pub. For my money though, ‘Spoons did a really good job with this and brought a much-needed variety of ales into this area. The inside of the pub is really well done with some unusual high-backed chairs.

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They have, in the process of renovating this lovely building, created a fabulous space to the rear. Col had been in The Bull on many occasions and the back was never this spacious! Nice tables, comfy seats, nicely lit. It was needed tonight as the pub heating was set to sub-tropical!

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(Just a small section of the outside space!)

I wouldn’t ordinarily have written this single pub visit up, but the festival is on until next Sunday. Whilst I know that ‘Spoons aren’t everyone’s cup of lapsang, some of the beers on offer look superb (Ionian Coffee Porter anyone?) and it would be a shame to let prejudice get in the way of some really good beers that we may never see again!

Having been in three or four times now, The Bulls Head may be entering into that rare club. Wetherspoons that I trust!

On that note…..

Slainte!