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Tyson is an underpaid writer, beer anarchist and cheese addict living in the North West of England.
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Thursday, 28 May 2015

A Trip Down Memory Lane

A sad loss to the fabric of Bury’s drinking culture was the recent closure and sale of the Dusty Miller on Crostons Road. On the face of it, this is just another out of town boozer that has become a victim of changing times and tides. However, the Dusty’s contribution to local beer history is far greater than at first it might appear. Even though it dates from 1834 it was not historically significant, although its 3-room layout was somewhat unusual and the split room serving bar is becoming a rarity. No, the importance of the Dusty lies in the history woven through its brickwork: of its customers and its one time role as an important destination pub for real ale seekers.

An impressive list of Bury’s most well-known characters have propped up and, in some case, fallen over its bar stools over the years. Indeed Eddie, the once eager legal beagle, and his faithful sidekick Trumpet Dave were weaned on the pumps there. And Eddie’s own esteemed father, the Oberst, has put in many years’ faithful service in there as well. Not to mention CAMRA legend, Stuart the Glass. At a time when beer choice was very limited, its acquisition by Moorhouses offered a unique alternative to other offerings in the town. Its progress was steady, as was the norm in the old school of pub management.


There was no real mystery as to its eventual success. Through hard work and effort the long-serving landlord built up local support through a series of quiz and sports teams. It got into the Good Beer Guide and remained in for many years. I recall several CAMRA meetings being held there and it was a popular stop on the (in)famous Independents Day coach trips. It held beer festivals-unusual in Bury pubs at that time and also offered another rarity of the time: guest beers. Such was the buzz in pre-digital times that, when word did get round of a particularly good one on offer, drinking plans were altered and there was no need to guess where Bury’s finest imbibers were to be found. Another thing it will be fondly remembered for is its legendary lock-ins. A prerequisite for any good pub back in the day.

However, the Dusty was always balanced on something of a cliff edge. The surrounding area was never gentrified and in its heyday relied on light industry to supply its customers. When that declined, the pubs remained something of an anachronism, full of strip acts and hardy drunks. The Dusty was tame compared to the likes of the Blue Bell that had to have reinforced glass to cope with all the damage wrought but, having been banned from his chosen local, you would come across the odd headcase in there. When it was run as a tight ship, it was never a real problem and you got used to hearing some interesting conversations about the merits of Moroccan Black.


The reinvigoration of Bury town centre, the general decline of corner street pubs and changes in personal further weakened the Dusty’s position. I reported back in 2012 how it had been given an unexpected lift with Britain’s self-proclaimed most controversial landlord, Nick Hogan, taking the helm. I said I was expecting fireworks, but sadly his reign proved more of a damp squib. It’s fair to say than from his disastrous so-called celebrity opening night (more people were interested in chatting to the Oberst than the alleged celebrity) to his ill-judged remodel along the lines of an American diner, it was pretty much a plunge to the bottom. As the last man standing, it had a window of opportunity to cash in on that status but, with the locals leaving in droves, the clock was ticking down.
In many ways the fate of the Dusty is symbolic of a familiar picture: a victim of changing times and bad management. But for its ex-regulars its closing is far more significant and marks the end of an era. For it wasn’t just another local, it was THEIR local

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Recap: York

Well there is really only one place to start AND finish a crawl in York. And luckily that place is at the train station. The Tap has quickly established itself as one of the best outlets in the country. Is it the impressive conversion of a Victorian tearoom? Possibly, but the fact that it has 18 pumps dispensing the water of life doesn’t hurt, either. Also boasting a large range of ales-10-is Brigantes on Micklegate. This Market Tavern pub was refurbished in 2013 and looks either (a) clean and contemporary or (b) sterile, depending on your perspective. The chief talking point here, however, was the autovac: a device unknown in the civilised land of Lancashire. I’m not keen on these cost-saving devices as they return the drip tray contents back into the beer line; although they do tend to deliver an aesthetically pleasing pint in the process.
(York Tap)
(Golden Ball)
(Golden Ball)
The Blue Bell on Fossgate is, of course, known for its nationally historic interior. That and for always being rammed. Uncomfortably warm in there, an escape across the street to the Ossett owned Hop proved of little relief as, understandably on a Saturday, that was also packed to the gills. Much more pleasant was the Golden Ball on Cromwell Road. This Grade 11 listed Victorian corner boozer, extensively refurbished by John Smiths in 1929, has a glazed brick exterior and its nationally historic interior boasts four rooms: bar, back room, lounge and snug. This became the area’s first co-operative local in 2013 and shows that the best people to run a pub are people who know and care about it.

(Blue Bell)
Yet another pub with a nationally historic interior-York is full of them, apparently-is the Swan on Bishopgate Street. This has a traditional West Riding layout that consists of a bar in a wide passageway and two rooms at either end of the bar. Another pub with a cracking interior-if only of regional historic importance-is the Phoenix on George Street. With a real log fire in the front room and bar billiards in the back, it has a warm, relaxing atmosphere that invites you to sit down and stay awhile. The Maltings at Tanners Moat is handily close to the station and boasts reclaimed doors on the ceiling and a reclaimed toilet acting as a seat in the corner as well as some fine beers. And then there’s the York Tap. Again…

Monday, 20 April 2015

Recap: London Brewpubs

London has many beer wonders to keep the travelling imbiber amused. From the crème de la crème of craft beer bars to the olde worlde charm of Sam Smiths pubs. From shiny brewery taprooms to shiny sparkling brewpubs. And it was the latter of these that was the focus of our last excursion into London Murky land.
(White Hart)
(White Hart)
First stop was the White Hart at Mile End Road in the heart of the East End. Forget about the fictionalised Eastenders view of the area with cockney barrow boys peddling their traditional wares. This is the real East End with a dazzling cosmopolitan array of sights and sounds. Coming out of Whitechapel station, you do pass a genuine slice of East End history before you reach the brewpub. The Blind Beggar pub is notorious for being the venue where Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell in 1966. More prosaically, it’s also outside of where William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, held his first open air sermon. Of beery note, it also used to be the brewery tap of Manns, of Brown Ale fame.
(Temple Brew House)
(Temple Brew House)
The White Hart itself was something of a disappointment. Pleasant enough inside, it had that contemporary rustic look that is unlikely to offend many people. The main selling point is their 3.5 BBL in-house brewery. Sadly the cask option for their beer on the day was limited to Hospital Porter. This was ok but quite dull really. As was the keg options. The Snakecharmer IPA did at least have a faint hop presence to it but the Pilsner was heavy with a malt infusion that was completely out of keeping for the style. More work needed here, I think, if it’s to be taken seriously for its own beers. If in doubt, raid the beer fridge which does offer some reasonable alternatives.
)Brewhouse and Kitchen)
(Brewhouse and Kitchen) 
No such problems with our next stop. Tucked away in a cellar on Essex St, the Temple Brew House is home to the Essex Street Brewing Company. The pub is cosy enough with brewing motifs along the wall and the bar at one end of the room dispensing 20+ beers from tap and pump. Their own beers were a distinct improvement over the White Hart with the Gavel American Pale being adjudged the favourite. Also enjoyed was Sandbrooke’s, unfiltered and unpasteurised, Pale Ale and the seemingly ubiquitous Gamma Ray. Definitely worth a visit again as the mix of house and guest beers seem like a winning combination.

We were brought back to ruminate over the limitations of brewpubs and their output at the Brewhouse and Kitchen in Islington. Located just around the corner from Angel station on Torrens St, this could be used as the poster boy for brewpubs throughout the land. Part of a successful chain, there has obviously been a lot of money spent here. The place itself is spacy, modern, airy and light. Clean edges and a mixture of seating make for a very pleasant venue. But oh dear: the beer was given a universal thumbs down. Myddleton, described as a “Blonde Ale”, was in fact a malt laden effort that was decidedly unappealing. And although a variety of others was tried between us, none hit any great heights. Perhaps a case of style over substance?

So rather a mixed bag on this visit but it’s all about trying these places out and luckily there were other refreshments along the way. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Flying Shuttle To Close

There has been much wringing of hands locally at the news that town centre pub the Flying Shuttle is to close. The Bury Times broke the story here and although they obviously never read this blog or indeed their own archives, judging by the factual errors, you can read between the lines to see where the problem lies. Now the Shuttle has had a somewhat chequered history as I made clear back in 2008. However the fact remains that it is in a great location and reeks of untapped potential. The notice of its closure caught people on the hop as it was assumed that as it was so obvious what needed doing with it, that it was only a matter of time before Thwaites revamped it.

Bury is now ranked the 3rd most popular retail destination in Greater Manchester with only the city centre and the Trafford Centre being more popular. On one side of town lies the multi-million pound development The Rock whilst on the other side is the famous Bury Market and the shopping precinct. The flying Shuttle lies between the two. It has no competition unlike the cluster around Wetherspoons and is right next to a multi-storey car park. The footfall is impressive. It has kitchen facilities and should be knocking lunches out for the hungry masses while serving foaming pints of real ale. But it isn’t. Thwaites are not wrong: business is poor. So what’s the problem?

Well Thwaites themselves have to shoulder some of the blame. Their approach to it (and several others in Bury) seems to be of the hands off variety. Which would be great if that worked well but it hasn’t. The pub has completely missed its target demographics. Running it as primarily a live music (heavy metal/alternative) venue may get a select crowd in at weekends but misses the boat the rest of the time. Shoppers pass it without giving it a thought and the real ale drinkers find sparse pickings. It cannot sustain itself as a music venue but seems to have forgotten that it’s a pub and where it is. Having mentioned it to people, the response is along the lines: "it's a club now isn't it?" or "I thought it closed years ago." Even worse is the fact that many visitors seem totally ignorant of its existence. 

Ironically Thwaites have often been criticised for ‘modernising’ their pubs. In this case, it was crying out for it. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Mikkeller Sort Gul

Well what better way to banish memories of the Easter break than with a breakfast beer? This morning it’s a beer from our old friends Mikkeller. Sort Gul comes in a 330ml bottle and is a 7.3% black IPA. Indeed the approximate translation is “Black Yellow” which kind of gives the game away. It was quite lively and poured dark mahogany with a fair-sized tan head. The aroma was very promising indeed: bold tones of chocolate, coffee, berried fruit-winberry, plums and a strong undercurrent of citrus infusion.  These characteristics are somewhat reversed in the actual taste. There is a solid backbone of dark chocolate with a hint of roast coffee but the hop element really pushes forward. There’s plenty of grapefruit, lychee and a pithy orange peel kick that delivers a really crisp hop-led assault on the taste buds.

Tyson says: Excellent from start to finish. This really delivers the goods as far as black IPAs are concerned.