Manchester Crawl Series 1 : Swan Street – How Much Longer?

Whilst excellence never gets boring, I crave something different from the “same old, same old”. It’s so easy to settle, create habits that become almost unbreakable.

Yes, there will always be favourites you can rely on to consistently deliver, but – just sometimes – something “different” is called for. But something undemanding in terms of physical effort. Then it struck me.

Swan Street. A street burned in my soul.

And whilst we didn’t start on Swan Street itself (we started just around the corner), we kept faith with part of the original N/4 pub crawl.

Just don’t call it “Northern Quarter”. I’m in retro mode.

The Angel – Angel St (Jct w/Rochdale Road)

Get off the Metro / bus at Shudehill and walk halfway towards The Marble Arch and on the left – at the junction with the inner ring road you’ll find this unheralded gem.

Briefly known as a place where chef Robert Owen Brown forged his reputation, The Angel has been through many guises. It has been knocked about and reshaped over the years since I’ve been drinking there, but still maintains a quaint Mancunian trait, a sense of “otherness”. A quirkiness.

There’s nothing quite like it in Manchester.

I had my first beer here in December 1984. On my first “works Xmas do”. The pub was then called “The Weavers”. It had – in those days – a second room, roughly bounded by the far end of the bar to the back of the pub.

It was…. narrow. It had a pool table. A colleague fell asleep under that pool table that night. An unforgettable evening.

The pub changed hands. Became one of the early Manchester free houses. It had that room knocked through. It transformed into “The Beerhouse” and developed a reputation for an eclectic beer range. You’d find beers there that you wouldn’t elsewhere.

Now being The Angel – named after nearby Angel Meadows (look it up on Wikipedia), it maintained that reputation. It continues to do so, being the only place I know to get Kissingate beers (Horsham, Sussex), notable for their catnip like ability to attract the Arch Nemesis. I put a call in. He couldn’t resist.

Yes. That’s a Baby Grand. In a pub in Manchester. And it does get played…..

To the point, The Angel is a large single room in a kind of wide L shape. At about 170 years old, it retains a Mancunian sensibility, that “Soul” I need to actually love a place.

And those who “know” The Angel do love it.

Last night, the Hawkshead Windermere Pale was as good as I’ve had it, razor sharp and tasty. The KissingateSmelters Stout” was rich, smoky and delicious. A lovely Stout.

The Angel rarely gets talked about in the pantheon of great Mancunian pubs. But it really should.

It may not be pristine and shiny, may be a little “rough around the edges”, but it’s a Manc classic.

Go. Just go.

From The Angel, cross Rochdale Road and turn right. Head towards Shudehill and then left on Swan Street.

Jack In The Box at Mackie Mayor – Swan Street

Apparently a transplant of a successful outlet/operation in Altrincham, there was a lot of excitement when word got out that this beautiful old building was being taken on.

I’ve seen messages from far and wide that testified to its impact since opening. Tonight, I thought I’d have a butchers.

The classical frontage doesn’t prepare you the the visual impact of the interior. The “WOW” factor. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

I was surprised at the small size of the bar, but it’s Black Jack. And – for me – they’ve hit a sweet spot. The “You Bet” that I had was pin sharp. Jaz had am excellent beer from Siren, Jock had an Uber sharp Oakham Citra (a criminally overlooked beer).

This place is all about the food though.

That lovely Margherita from Honest Crust didn’t last long. Delicious. Having had them before, I expected no less. Tasty.

Stomach sated.

This place is stunning. It gets busy. It’s a big space with all the traders on the perimeter. With a mass of seating.

The beer is excellent, but I can’t get over the fact of Big Brother next door. But this is a destination venue. An Atkinson’s coffee, an Honest Crust pizza, a wine from Reserve Wines? I’d rather give these guys my money than any chain.

So. Walk out of the Swan Street door. Turn right. Walk 10 yards

The Smithfield – Swan Street

I’ve been a fan since Black Jack first took the plunge and got out the paintbrushes. They took an old run down beer tickers pub and brought it into the 21st century.

A bit of TLC. A hug and a kiss. They worked wonders.

It’s rarely quiet these days. It’s found a place for itself, gained a reputation for great beer. It has A BAR BILLIARDS TABLE!

And a dartboard. And that board gets use.

I didn’t take loads of pics in here. I just enjoyed a gorgeous pint of Jarsa by Brew York and chatted.

The Smithfield does all of those simple things incredibly well. And – when my lot are out – is one of the places we meet. Or end up.

Or both. A Manc essential.

Leave The Smithfield, cross the road, turn right. Walk 30 yards along Swan Street.

Bar Fringe – Swan Street

You will NOT find a quirkier, more charming pub / bar in Manchester.

Just wander in. Keep your eyes open. And drink it all in.

This place is simply a diamond. Cherish it. It won’t be here much longer.

A long room. With something for – almost – everyone. 4 cask beers. Draught Belgian. Excellent bottles. Brilliant eclectic jukebox.

And just, again, an old soul. A feeling.

It doesn’t matter how many times I come in, there’s always some detail I miss. Like that painted rat…..

Beer. Panda Frog from the North East. Pale. Unfined. Amarillo. I’m easy to please. I could bury my head in a bag of Amarillo and die happy.

And herein lies the core of this post. This side of Swan Street is slated to be demolished. “Developed”. Have the Mancunian element and history flattened.

To be replaced by glass and concrete. More flats.

Always more flats.

Eviscerating the history and soul from a city. Bastards.

Fuck your “progress”. Same to Manchester City Council for destroying the soul of this beautiful city. Block by block.

But I digress. Enjoy the Fringe. This little diamond. While you still can.

Leave the Fringe, turn left. Cross (the rather busy) Oldham Road.

Crown & Kettle – Oldham Road

Another Manchester classic.

A place that seemed to have lost its way in a beer sense. But – in recent months – with a new female custodian (I hate the term “landlady”), the beer has started to sing the sweetest of songs.

Yes. The C&K is another Mancunian jewel. But the beer range and quality had started to wilt.

But, with that new custodian, it’s now a “go to” again.

3 separate rooms. The small room behind the bar was closed last night, but when it’s open, just look up. And gawp.

That beautiful ceiling…..

The current pub is about 130 years old, but there has been a pub on this site for almost 300 years. You can see images/drawings of the area from that time if you scour the net.

The place is beautiful and now – again – has the beer to match. A Northern Alchemy Tawny Port Stout was the beer of the evening. Just lush.

The Brass CastleLittle Imp” was stunning too at 2.8%! Almost a session Stout, really full bodied the that abv.

Again, the C&K needs to be visited. Great beer (again) and a beautiful pub.

But all good things come to an end.

Distance wise, a short crawl. But it forms a snapshot of Manchester. A Manchester we’ll lose a part of in the next few years.

Enjoy it while you’ve got it. I will.

(I never get bored of this!)

Back soon. Jx

Sainsbury – Great British Beer Hunt 2013

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This is the third year of this competition, but I have to confess that years 1 & 2 almost passed me by completely. It was only in the aftermath of the 2012 iteration, that I picked up on the 2 winners Mocha by Batemans (slightly sweet, but v moreish) & J W Lees’ Manchester Star – a recreated recipe of a 19th century beer initially created in collaboration with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, I think I still have a bottle of that lurking somewhere!

This year however, I picked up on some of the buzz via Twitter & Facebook and headed to my nearest branch.

The competition works like this. This year, over 150 bottled beers were entered in the four regional competitions (Scot/NI, North, East & West) and, through customer tasting sessions, were whittled down to five from each region. These 20 beers are then stocked across the Sainsbury estate and, via volume of sales, are further whittled down to 12 which go through to a final judging by “beer experts” (sorry, couldn’t help myself – Just can’t get over Worthington White Shield winning Champion Bottle Beer of Britain at GBBF!)

Prize for 1st place? Shelf space in over 250 stores. 2nd place? 100 stores. A significant deal for almost any Micro!

Walking in to my branch at Bolton, the beers were clearly on display and separated from the main booze aisles. Now, despite a thoroughly undeserved reputation as a bit of a lush, there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to attempt all 20 beers! So I got selective. I bought 10 or so different bottles (in varying quantities) Here’s the best of the bunch that I bought.

One further point. My usual format for listing changes here, as all the beers were bought from the one retailer and all cost the same price – a ludicrously cheap £1.50!!!

WMere Pale Label

1. Windermere PaleHawkshead Brewery (Staveley , Cumbria) – 4% abv –  Pale Ale – 500ml

Firstly (and I feel like I’m back at school here!), I misplaced my photo of the poured bottle. I did take one, honest sir……it was there this morning……

Pale as a spring morning but with the pungent aroma of autumns harvest of that beast of a hop, Citra! If you have ever had this on draught….It’s just as pale, just as hoppy. Sweet and sharp on the nose with pineapple and grapefruit, light bodied but absolutely PACKED with hoppy flavours with more grapefruit having the edge. A nice slightly sweet rich tea biscuit base allows the hops to party. Nice very dry bitter finish. Slightly boosted in strength to 4% (draught on cask being 3.5% abv) but loses none of its refreshing ability. More please!

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2 Gonny No Brew ThatWilliams Bros Brewing (Alloa, Scotland) – 3.8% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml

I thought that at this strength, that this beer might suffer in comparison. Not a bit of it! Pale and gold with a pineapple marmaladey nose. Quite full-bodied for this strength with a doughy bread base balanced by a cutting orangey bitterness. A nice fruity bittersweet finish. Nice beer at this strength.

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3. Crafty Dan – Daniel Thwaites (Blackburn, Lancashire) – 6% abv – Strong Pale Ale – 500ml

Brewed on a smaller brew kit used for Thwaites seasonal range, this is one of quite a few Thwaites beers I’ve had this year which is seriously impressive. Deep gold, abundant white foam head with an aroma of orange marmalade on warm bread. In the mouth, more slightly bitter Seville marmalade hops with a nice big biscuit malt base. Hints of warming rum or Curacao. A nice bitterness in the finish with a spicy orange tang. A Blackburn Belter!

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4. India Pale AleHarbour Brewing Company (Trekillick, North Cornwall) – 5.2% abv – IPA – 500ml

One of two Harbour beers that I bought. Not had much of their stuff, but what I have had has been impressive, but on keg. This was a bronze coloured beer full of citrus aromas. Medium bodied and really citrus fruity with gum tingling piney resins swirling around the mouth. A really nice hoppy bitter beer with sufficient malty sweetness for just the right balance – with the hops on top that is! Very tasty indeed!

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5. Porter No 6Harbour Brewing Company (Trekillick, North Cornwall) – 6.8% abv – Porter – 330ml

Just to ramp the strength back up and to introduce some shade into all this light stuff! The second from Harbour. A deep ruby, nearly black beer with a surprising raisin wine aroma (for this strength). A mouthful of caramel maltyness with a nice coffee and sweet chocolate flavouring. This was quite warming as it slipped down – again, surprisingly so at this strength point. A touch sweeter that I usually like my porters, but a truly cracking bottle!

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6. WayfarerOrkney Brewery (Cawdor, Nairnshire, Scotland) – 4.4% abv – IPA – 500ml

A really pale beer with a distinctive citrus aroma, reminiscent of bitter lemon. Balanced malt base but overlaid with cascade and amarillo hop zing, more grapefuit and lemon puckering the lips. Really refreshing beer with a dry and slightly resinous finish. First Orkney I’ve had in a while. A cracker.

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7. Infra RedHardknott Brewery (Millom, Cumbria) – 6.2% abv – Red IPA (I suppose!) – 330ml

This almost exploded as I opened it. A ruby red beer with an aroma of cough candy, spicy and slightly yeasty. Again, in the mouth, the cough candy of the crystal malt is evident, but with quite a bitter hoppy hit. Quite bitter and spicy in the finish with a spicy hop lingering.

There you go. I didn’t burden you with the ones that I didn’t quite get. The Querkus Smoked Porter was particularly disappointing and the Hunters Devon Dreamer was a bit yeasty (may have shaken and not settled to be fair)

I know that this is now a bit late in the game, but if you bought any of the above, you’d be doing yourselves a favour IMO! And, you only have until next Wednesday. What are you waiting for???

If you ask me for my favourites….I’d have to say the Crafty Dan, and the Harbour Porter. The others just being shaded, but only just! Certainly, if the Bolton stores’ sales are anything to go by, the Hawkshead Windermere Pale has been selling well. Just look at the picture at the top!

On that note…’til next time…(probably Hornbeam MTB at The Salford Arms tomorrow evening!)

Slainte!

Hawkshead Brewery – Meet The Brewer – Port Street Beer House 26/11/2012

‘Twas a fairly grim evening, this particular Monday. I had been aware of these events that had been held almost monthly at Port Street, but, as yet, had not attended one.

However, when Jaz approached me with the prospect of attending one when the great and the good from Hawkshead brewery of Staveley, Cumbria would be presenting, the opportunity was simply too good to pass up!

Anyway. Where were we. Ah Yes! ‘Twas a grim evening, this particular Monday. Getting to Manchester in rush hour was managed with the help of my darling Attila and I found myself approaching Jaz, loitering on the corner of Hilton & Port St.

Entering the mighty Beer House, I was surprised to learn that, ordinarily, it is closed on a Monday evening! I handed over my entrance ticket to receive 5 raffle style tickets, each to be exchanged for a drink at the bar, a 1/2 pint of Windermere Pale and 4 “samples”. Intrigued? Was I!

I was pleased to notice that, whilst there were only 3 beers with their clips “facing”, one of these was Blackedge Brewery “Black Stout”. Judging by reports, the Blackedge “Black Port” had been on and was subject to rave reviews. I was pleased to try this local ale (Horwich). Black as night, with an off white head, the aromas were promisingly earthy. What followed was a pint of dark malty roasted goodness, with a hoppy dry aftertaste. (I’ll be scouting Bolton pubs to find more!)

I then settled down to the business at hand, a half pint of Hawkshead Windermere Pale. A seriously hoppy beer at a mere 3.5%. Almost lager pale, the hoppy aromas can be quite surprising at first, lots of grapefruit and apricot in there. This is a gorgeously sharp pint. Nice and bitter and hugely moreish. A beer you could drink all evening and, quite possibly, my favourite beer below 4% abv!

As I got toward the end of the half, the brewers were introduced. 4 had travelled up from Staveley and one of them, Matt Clarke, the Head Brewer, (a New Zealander) gave us a quick spiel about the brewery.

Founded by Alex Brodie (hence, Brodies Prime) in 2002, they started brewing just outside of Hawkshead on a 7 barrel plant. Having grown rapidly, they outgrew the initial premises and ended up at the current location at Staveley where they can now brew nearly 6 times the previous capacity.

Matt introduced the first beer of the evening. Brodies Prime (I was SO hoping they’d brought some!). A silky dark roasted beer, not quite a Stout, not quite a Porter. Matt made reference to the current vogue of Black IPAs (which Brodies Prime predated by nearly a decade!). I resolved that this half pint would not be the last Brodies of the evening!

Next, Matt introduced NZPA (New Zealand Pale Ale). Brewed at 6%, using four New Zealand hops: Green Bullet, Riwaka, Motueka & Nelson Sauvin. He claimed that he was cajoled into making this beer as people kept asking him why a New Zealander wasn’t using hops from his own country! Tasting the NZPA, I reckon he needed absolutely no excuses whatsoever! This is a big beer. On a firm sweet malty base, those citrussy New Zealand hops pack a mighty punch. This was the first pale I had at the SIBA fest last month, I loved it then and that only grew with this taste (another 1/2 pint). Just when I was starting to feel that I was deserting my Dark wife for a pale mistress……

On comes the next beer…..Ooooh……An Imperial Stout! Brewed with oats and SIX malts!!! Aged in Oaken Bladnoch Whisky Casks for nearly 10 months!!!! (I think I’ve broken my exclamation mark key) This is an astonishingly lovely, rich beer! (I lied about the ! of course) Sweet tobacco, coffee…yum. Then, just at the side of the tongue, you get the warming oaky, whisky hit. Love at first sip.

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The boys from Staveley had brought some local made Pork Pie to accompany the beers. They were well matched with the Imperial Stout for sure.

Jaz and I had a bit of a chinwag with Matt, who seemed a decent sort, before it was onto the next beer, which he introduced as…….another Imperial Stout at 8.3% abv. This time made with Lyth Valley damsons and Madagascan vanilla pods (the sour and the sweet). Another gloriously black oozing brew, the sourness of the damsons offset by the natural sweetness of all that malt!

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I have to say that my slight preference would be for the “straight” Imperial Stout, though I could barely separate them.

Image(A fine selection of Cumbrian Crackers!)

I then fulfilled my ‘promise to self’ with a pint of Brodies Prime followed by a sneaky half pint of Imperial Stout (rude not to….)

As stated, this was my first “Meet The Brewer”. I didn’t know what to expect, but what I got was an excellent evening, engaging presentations from people who have a passion about what they brew and some simply astonishingly good beer.

I sloped off at this point, leaving Jaz in his second home (his living room ?) and was slightly surprised to see the guys from Hawkshead piling into their “twin cab” pick up. One of the four having selflessly been the Designated one for the evening.

On that note I bid you a fond farewell til next time.

Slainte!