About Me

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Manchester, United Kingdom
Tyson is a beer hound and cheese addict living in the beery metropolis paradise known as Manchester
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Monday, 31 March 2008

back to the future part deux

There’s always at least one beer that people tend to remember. It may be your first ever, your first legal one, or simply that one that conjures up a special time. So it is with the Stomach, and Brains Reverend James. Having tried it several years ago, he’s been desperate to try it again ever since. Was it as good as he remembered? Or was it simply a case of a beer being at the right place at the right time? There have been a few near misses over the years, but every time he’s been alerted to a nearby source, it vanishes before he gets a chance to sample it. So when an afternoon visit to Wetherspoons revealed it to be on the bar, an urgent carrier pigeon was despatched.

Also on the bar was Bank Top Little Sam (3.8%) which was pale and indifferent. Robinsons Top Tipple and Wychwood Mad Hatter were both fine, if not quite up to their Manchester counterpart standard. Ringwood (not usually one of my favourite breweries) 78 at 4.2% wasn’t bad. It probably lacked the hops I prefer with golden beers, but was easy drinking enough. Northern Night To Remember was another one I’ve sampled a lot of recently, although here it seemed to lack the bitterness I’ve had experienced elsewhere. And what of the Reverend James? This 4.5% beer combines malt and fruit to give quite a palatable taste-for a brown beer. Not bad, if not outstanding. As for the Stomach, he did enjoy it, but almost inevitably it was never going to quite live up to expectations. Some experiences are just never meant to be repeated. Best on the day was Westons Conquest Scrumpy (4.8%), which was a very moreish, cloudy, dry cider.

As evening had by now arrived, the Two Tubs next door had opened its doors to Sunday revellers. Reluctantly, I agreed to go and sample some Wainwrights. The bottom half of the pub was given over to a pounding beat, which was seemingly catering for a couple of underage tarts, and some not so young tarts. Quartering ourselves in the small taproom, we sampled Thwaites Double Century (4.8%) as this had replaced the Wainwrights. It was drinkable, but failed to match the bite of any of the previous beers. The real problem was when a group arrived and sat at the bar. After ordering his (keg, obviously) drink, the guy in the middle raised his fat arse and let one rip. It was a real stinker that had everyone in the small room gasping. Now Stonch has waxed lyrical about beer festival farters, but what about unapologetic pub stinkers? Is there no pub etiquette left anymore? The offence was made worse in my eyes by the presence of a woman next to him, although that might just be my old fashioned sense of chivalry. Somehow it seemed indicative of how far this pub has fallen in recent times.

Top tip-apparently, unapologetic, keg drinking, public farters don’t like to be told they are smelly bastards. Some people can’t take constructive criticism….

Sunday, 30 March 2008

knock knock

"Tell me who's that knocking at the knocking shop door tonight?"

A quiet venture today, with a late start drink wise, as the evening promised to be interesting. So, just a couple of pints warm up watching the mighty Man Utd cruise along.

Now, never being afraid to venture where other beerhounds fear to tread, I have been to all sorts of venues over the years. However, Saturday night was a first for me. It’s not everyday you get an invite to a brothel party. Well I don’t anyway. Having never been to a knocking shop before, the sociologist in me was curious to see the human zoo that patronise these establishments, both as customer and service provider. With the number of Camra types who I’ve discovered frequent these places, I’m surprised there isn’t a campaign for real ale in brothels! Anyway, a regular at such a place invited me along as his guest on the understanding that I would be merely an observer. Admittedly, apart from scientific curiosity, the lure of a free bar and buffet was a major consideration. Apart from an invitation to a Conservative fund raiser, it would be rude to refuse such an offer.

Notorious Girls are located about half a mile from the centre of Bury. It was a smart, large, building that seemed more like a gentleman’s club, rather than the stereotype knocking shop that perhaps I was expecting. Champagne was immediately forthcoming on entry, and a menu of available girls was presented for our delectation. Too wary (and too embarrassed), to admit I was only there for the booze and buffet; I managed to duck that challenge, and was admitted to the main party area. Here we were greeted by pounding music, and a surprisingly well stocked bar. Oh, and lots of top totty looking girls in various skimpy outfits. It has to be said, there certainly was a lot of eye candy around. Slightly more than we are use to in the Trackside, anyway. The punters were a mix of ages, whilst the ladies (not all of whom were working there), tended to be younger students and/or the more seasoned professional types. Apparently, these things go on till 4am. But, as my companion disappeared with his chosen escort, it became clear that I was the only non-punter there (my Asda shopping may have given me away), so I made my excuses and left.

An eye opener, in more ways than one. Don’t think the punting scene is for me, but I did say I’d pass the word for anyone who is interested. NG can be found at (http://www.notoriousgirls.co.uk/nghouse.asp) but remember there is no Camra discount-yet.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

back to the future

Well, having failed to source Stone’s California Double IPA, despite scouring Manchester, desperate measures were needed. So I found myself having breakfast at Bury’s gubernatorial Wetherspoons fun palace. Although what Sir Robert Peel would make of the dump named in his honour, God only knows. Anyway, 10am is probably the best time to visit here, as the deadlegs have yet to arrive, and you can’t argue with £1.99. I killed the time waiting for my lift with a pint of Kelham Island Pale Rider (5.2%) which failed to impress. Saltaire Bavarian Dark (4.9%) was much better and had a well balanced roast/malt ratio. Then it was straight over to the Regal Moon in Rochdale and my meeting with Stone’s. Truly an amazing beer and Nirvana for hop lovers. It does not drink like 7%. Unfortunately, my chauffeur wasn’t about to wait around indefinitely, and as I had to get back, I had to make do with just 2 pints.

Back in Bury and what to do? My next appointment wasn’t till 6, so how to fill the afternoon? I hadn’t taken time off just to sit around watching Lovejoy. On the other hand, sitting in the Trackside for 5 hours wasn’t really a good idea, either. So I decided to travel around a little and spread the alcohol load. The Coach & Horses at Edenfield provided a good pint of Taylors Landlord, whilst the Whitchaff had some excellent Robinson’s beers, and a rather tasty vegetarian curry. Several good beers on at the Hare & Hounds, with the pick being George Wright Drunken Duck (3.9%). This combines various American hops to make a very pale, drinkable, hoppy session beer.

Time to meet the Chuckle Brothers at the Troughside. And, heavens to Betsy, there are actually festival beers available. Phoenix Spotland Gold (4.1%) isn’t one of them, but it’s another great, hoppy, session beer. Highgate Whisky Ale (4.4%) confirmed what I’ve always thought of it-a very poor beer, overbalanced with malt, and more of a gimmick than a real beer. Hydes Trojan Horse (4.2%) was also disappointing. Surprisingly bland, I could only imagine it was being served very green. Over at the Trackside, several beers had run out, but I managed to squeeze a pint out of Acorn Madness, before switching to Wold Top Gold (4.8%) which was surprisingly good. Pale, and easy on the palate for its strength, the Styrian Goldings gave it a fruity bitter taste. Suddenly it was 11pm and people were leaving for home and/or catching buses. Which is always the signal that it’s Thatchers Cheddar Valley time. This orange coloured 6% cider beauty is the cure for all men’s ails. Well, that’s what I keep telling myself anyway…

Friday, 28 March 2008

wetherspoons here we come

A message from Eddie: the eager, legal, beagle. Could I join him for a beer sojourner this evening? I tried pleading with him that I was intending to paint my toenails, but he was insistent. I had to go out and gorge myself on the hop-apparently it’s the law. Like beerites up and down the land, we wanted to check out the start of the Wetherspoons Beer Festival. Tandleman had already teased me with the delights available at the Rochdale outlet, whilst Bury had nothing to offer but the faint odour of last night’s vomit. So it was that we hoisted up our scooping buckets and headed for the bright lights of Manchester.

First stop was the Paramount on Oxford Road. This is the best JDW outlet in town and didn’t disappoint tonight. A full range of festival beers were available, all at £1.19 a pint for Camra members. The choice included Youngs and the Stomach’s favourite beer-Brains Rev James. We tried Marston’s Sunlight Ale (3.8%) and Bateman’s Spring Goddess (4.2%). The Marston’s was full of the Burton Snatch-sulphur mixed with a slight nutty taste. The Bateman’s was disappointing-it had a metallic edge which spoilt the otherwise pleasing mineral taste.

Next stop was the Waterhouse, opposite the Town Hall. A good selection of beers on here as well. Bateman’s Hooker (4.5%) was fruity, spicy, and had a nice mineral hop aftertaste. Even better was Wychwood Mad Hatter (4.2%) where the hop resin was very prominent in the aroma. A reddish beer, it delivered a biscuit-malt crunch and a very long, dry, bitter finish. An excellent beer and I could have happily slumped there for several more. However, we dragged ourselves next door and I tried Brakspear Bitter (3.4%) which carries an amazing kick for its strength. A good mix of hop and fruit, with a bitter-sweet finish. Brains SA (4.2%) in comparison was, frankly, a little bland.

A route march took us into the Unicorn on Church Street which seems to be finding its feet again, as far as cask is concerned. Copper Dragon Challenger IPA (4.8%) was in good nick, and out of curiosity we tried a half of Boddingtons. This really is a shadow of its former self and should be put out of its misery. We wanted to try Robinsons Top Tipple (3.9%) so called in the Castle on Oldham Street. This was in good condition and an easy going session beer, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it tastes exactly like Unicorn Bitter-whatever their tasting notes say! The Crown & Kettle (for once) had a good selection, but alas we made the wrong choice. Eschewing Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, we went for Phoenix Arizona (4.1%) which initially seemed fine, but turned out to be cloying and not at all how it should be.

Time (and beer), was taking its toll now, but we still had time to call into Bar Fringe. It was the first day of their festival, but they had done a Bury JDW and hadn’t made any special arrangements. I was told this was because “no one drinks on a Thursday” which is ok, but then why advertise your festival as starting on one??? We did have Okell’s Dr Okell’s Eastern Spice (4.5%) which proved a very interesting beer. Light in colour, it uses 6 different hops, but it’s the coriander, spices, and ginger that give it a real kick. Very warming, but I’m not sure I could drink it all night. Last stop was the Smithfield across the road. Ossett Silver Fox (4.1%) was light with a good, clean, finish. However, Saltaire Blond (4%) was disappointing with a honey-sweet taste that didn’t appeal to our jaded palates.

Just time to dine at the legendary Hunters-rice and three for £3.50-note to self, next time dine before drinking. Then I just had time to get the tram back to Bury, leaving Eddie to go home, and give the Manx Minx a taste of the cat o’nine tails. Apparently, it’s compulsory over there in Manx Minx Land…

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Beer festival, my arse

Live update from the Robert Peel. It’s officially the first day of Wetherspoons Beer Festival-except, it seems, here in Bury. There are festival programmes, a festival poster, and festival promotions on the pumpclips. But actual festival beers, not a sign. The same old tired beers from last night are still on, along with the usual suspects. Perhaps it’s an early April Fool joke???

A good turn out tonight-we even had the Stomach tagging along to entertain us with stories about Zeppelin spotting. A late work finish meant we restricted our imbibing to central Bury. No problem, Wetherspoons are starting a festival tomorrow-the Peel will doubtless have some festival beers on already. So, in hopeful anticipation, the Crazy Gang piled into the Troughside (AKA The Robert Peel).

No sign of any impending festival, apart from a t-shirt hung at the bar. Beer wise, apart from the usual suspects, there was Bank Top Brydge Bitter (3.8%), Wychwood Dirty Tackle (4.4%) and Exmoor Gold (4.5%). Brydge Bitter was flat and listless, whilst Dirty Tackle was soapy and obviously the end of the barrel. Exmoor Gold was the only drinkable beer and even that was far from perfect, verging on the bland. Some of the Crazy Gang were only use to seeing the Troughside at the end of the night, through alcohol infused eyes. Taking a look round stone sober, they were shocked. The Trackside gets some flak for its sticky tables, but it’s a palace compared to this dump. Uncollected glasses, dirty tables, dirty windows and useless staff. I was going to say it’s the worst pub in Bury, but of course there are some dossholes (hello Radcliffe), you need SAS training to feel safe in. So, let’s just leave it as a strong contender for the worst cask pub in Bury. Even the Two Tubs next door shades it, and that’s saying something.

Needing some hop relief, we headed for the Trackside and some decent beer. Steamin’ Billy’s Bitter (4.3%) was light, but lacked the hop bite I would have liked. I actually only chose it because of the dog on the pumpclip, anyway. Elgood’s Black Dog (3.6%) wasn’t bad and it’s always nice to see a Mild available. Acorn Madness (4.4%) was the pick of the bunch, being a well-balanced, pale Bitter, with a nice dry aftertaste. Also tried Millstone Cat & Fiddle (4%), which, unusually for them, was a dark beer. Yes, dark. I say this because our genial barman had marked it up as a no 2 colour, suggesting something much lighter than the pint I received. After enquiring about colour blindness running in his family, I got down to the serious job of sampling it. I’m a big fan of Millstone, but this beer didn’t suit my palate. The strong roast bite was matched by vanilla sourness which was quite unpleasant. To be fair though, it shortly ran out, so I shall try it again under fresher conditions.

For anyone Googling, let me just say-Wetherspoons, Robert Peel, Bury, rubbish, garbage, dirty, useless, poor, crap, and dingy...

Monday, 24 March 2008

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday-an opportunity for quiet reflection and family gatherings. Super Sport Sunday-an excuse to indulge and imbibe with a bunch of drunks down the local ale house. Tough choice, but after deep reflection (2 seconds at least), I found myself in the Dogs with all the other beer and football zealots. As usual there was high drama and tears, and that was just choosing the beers.

Bank Top Leprechaun Stout (5%) was declared “even better than Guinness” by one obviously well versed connoisseur. Indeed, it was hard to argue with that, as the hint of blackcurrant made for quite a tasty pint. College Green’s Molly’s Chocolate Stout (4.2%) was also unusual, with roast oats, and a coffee bite, to add to the obvious chocolate notes. This exotic blend must have gone straight to Farting Freddie’s head, as he rashly tried a Boggart. When will people learn??? Boggart Dark (4.2%) was tart, then sour, then earthy-in that order. Completely undrinkable by any reasonable palate standards.

When the first goal came, I was already washing my mouth fresh with the second pint of Bazens Bent Over (4.4%) which was light and moreish. With Mascherano’s red card came Coastal Golden Hinde (4.3%) which proved golden, with a good hop/malt balance that meant I stayed with it for the duration. No need to dwell on the mix of hope and despair that the final whistle brought-and that was just the queue for the toilet. Time for a change of venue and the chance to see the London pansies fight it out. A phone call from Rog at the Sam had reassured me that he had sourced some Golden Pippin. So it was round there for some celebratory drinking. I also picked up some local pub news that I will have to investigate at some point. And there was still time to squeeze in a curry. Sundays-you gotta love’em...

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Well despite all the talk of cataclysmic weather conditions, Saturday wasn’t that bad at all. Windy, yes, but the early morning sun convinced me it was safe to venture further afield. Thus, I set off for the Star Inn in Huddersfield. Its twice yearly beer festivals are real treats as all the beer is served via handpump, both in the pub and in an adjacent marquee.

An uneventful journey later, I found myself in the centre of Huddersfield. The Head of Steam proved very poor-I’d heard this was on the wane and this visit only confirmed it. Much better was the Station Tavern which had several decent beers on. Then it was a brisk walk down to Albert St and the main event.

Church End Iron Brew (4%) was reddish in hue and, as I feared, sweetish in palate. Weatheroak Frog March (4.5%) was another new one for me. An amber beer, it also was leaning on the malty side, albeit it with some coffee notes-interesting but not one for me. Much better was Cairngorn White Lady (4.7%) which was a Bavarian style cloudy wheat beer. Orange, lemon, and coriander are present here, with just the right spicy aftertaste. Also pleasing was Tollgate TGB (4.3%) which was light, lightly hopped and slightly fruity. Coach House Blueberry (5%) was one I hadn’t tried for awhile, but the memory didn’t cheat-this was indeed a very good fruit beer. Of the others, Sawbridgeworth Stout (4.3%) and Iceni Pilgrim (4.2%) were ones I’d tried before and were again quite palatable. Ufford Idle Hour (3.9%) proved better than expected-an amber beer with nice hop and citric tones and a good finish. Son of Sid Back to Black (4.1%) had the weird pumpclip I’ve heard so much about, but the beer itself was little to shout about.

And so the beers kept on flowing, as the light (and the weather) faded outside. Then a dilemma-is there time for a couple in the Rat & Ratchet before heading home? Well, if you insist…

Saturday, 22 March 2008

good friday

Good Friday. An important day in the religious calendar. Also, a public holiday, and therefore a good excuse for an all dayer. Eschewing the obvious delights of Bury as, unfortunately, these occasions bring out the amateur drinkers in droves. Therefore, Manchester was the appointed imbibing spot for the day.

The Marble Arch at lunchtime wasn’t too busy and seats were quickly acquired. Somewhat late due to Don Juan Ricardo’s shaving accident, Pythagoras and Archimedes were already getting stuck in. The Whitefield Holts Bandit had managed to get a lift and was bearing his injury with manly fortitude. The problem with starting a crawl at the Marble is that often the temptation to stay is so strong that any thoughts of a crawl are soon forgotten. The excellent range, and not wanting to abandon the WHB, meant that the intended one or two became slightly more. The usual suspects were tried-JP Best and Manchester Bitter and found to be in good order. Titanic New World (4.4%) was disappointing-an amber beer that hinted at aromatic New World hops which were sadly absent. Grindleton (from Clitheroe) Ribble Best (3.7%) was light and had a pleasing bitter edge. I’ve had a few of their beers now and they are growing on me. Also present was the formidable Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (5.9%) which gave a citrus aroma, before a smooth, fruity, taste, and a long lasting, bitter-dry, finish. We eventually moved on, with the WHB citing his injury for not joining us. Although, the continental barmaids may just have been a factor in his reluctance to move on.

The Smithfield was the next port of call, where every beer turned out to be on the paler end of the scale. Grindleton Ribble Rouser (3.8%) was pleasantly bitter, and Full Mash Séance (4%) was fruity and quite moreish. The only disappointment was Salopian Shropshire Gold (3.8%) which is neither very golden, nor very good really. Don Juan and I wandered across the road to the Bar Fringe and were rewarded with Phoenix Spotland Gold (4.1%) which was zesty and full of hops. We would probably have settled here for the night, if not for the draught blowing in from the fire exit door that the smokers insisted on leaving open. Tiring of playing shut the smokers out, we called in at the English Lounge and tried a Taylors Landlord. This was in quite good nick, and the antics of some drunken girls proved cheap entertainment.

Back in Bury we called in at the TS and tried a couple, including the excellent Fyne Innishail (3.6%) which was golden, crisp and quite quenching. As the place wasn’t too busy we decided we could leave and come back later. Our destination was Pizza Pioneer and the mission-to get Don Juan to join the 15in club. His weapon of choice-Hot & Spicy with extra garlic, double chillies, and peppers. Even this wasn’t enough to satisfy his animal cravings, and a bowl of jalapeno peppers was quickly added to the mix. Much to the amazement of the staff, even this wasn’t sufficient, and only when enormous quantities of freshly sliced chillies were added, did he declare himself happy with the spice level. Of course all that spice had made him thirsty and we headed back to the TS for refreshment. In our absence the place had become packed with late night drinkers-where had they been all day? Standing by the bar proved the only option-possibly a good thing as the beer was definitely taking effect now and Don Juan was looking decidedly unsteady. The good news was that Phoenix March Hare (4.4%) had appeared on the roster and its bitter edge was just the thing for my somewhat jaded palate. A phone call summoning Ricardo home spelt the end of the night, probably no bad thing, and well, last orders had been called anyway.

A very good beer day with something decent to drink in every stop.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Recap time

A busy week of intoxication. As they say “those who can, drink, and those that don’t, write about it.” Well, if they don’t say that, they should. Ah, so much beer, and so little time to write about it. Meaning only honourable mentions for Monday’s escapades in deepest Lancashire, and Tuesday’s session with the Whitefield Holts Bandit. Alas, I fear his days as our answer to Lance Armstrong are numbered, as he is currently seeking an Edith Cavell to soothe his cycle-induced injuries. Any ladies with a nurse’s outfit and soft hands are welcome to apply for the position.

A jolly evening jaunt to the George Wright Brewery (www.georgewrightbrewing.co.uk/) at Rainford was Wednesday’s treat. I’ve long been a fan of their beers and jumped at the chance to sample them from the source. A very smart setup indeed, particularly for a micro of this size. We were provided with tables and chairs, some heating, and a bar with a choice of three ales. What more could a beerhound want! The presentation, by brewer Keith Wright, was both professional and entertaining. And the beer was very good as well. Stopwatch Sid and the Wallsend Wonder weren’t the only ones impressed. Cheeky Pheasant (4.7%) was fruity and satisfying, its taste belying its strength. Blonde Moment (4%) was even better, with a golden hue and a smooth well balanced hop feel. Apparently primarily aimed at the female drinker, it appealed to more than a few metrosexuals present as well. Best of all was Pipedream (4.3%) which is straw coloured and flavoured with Chinook hops. This gives it a very moreish bitterness that demands you try it again. And again, as some people plainly did…

Monday, 17 March 2008

The Tracks of My Beer

A message reaches me from the ether. Could I manage an afternoon session in Bury? Of course, is the Vatican full of Nazis, is my reply. But I’m already booked up for the evening, so it will have to be an early start. Thus, after a false start at the Troughside, I find myself settled in at La Railside just before noon.

There is a diesel event on and whilst there are a few anoraks on the platform, luckily there is still space inside. Unfortunately, the Ossett I enjoyed on my last visit had gone, so it was decided we would start afresh and try everything left on the board. Acorn Old Moor Porter (4.4%) was very dark brown/black, with an aroma of roast malt, chocolate, and coffee. The initial bitter coffee taste gave way to a sweeter, almost liquorice flavour. A very good example of this style I thought.

Moorhouses Pride of Pendle was pale and pleasant enough, if just on the wrong side of sweet for my palate. Northern-Night To Remember was also on and it confirmed my earlier experience that it’s not a bad little beer, although my taste for bitter beers probably notches it up a little. Robinsons Double Hop (5%) was a disappointment, as usual. I consider this the weak link in Robbie’s regular beer portfolio. It’s too strong for a session beer, but fails to deliver the extra punch you might expect from its strength. The name leads you to expect something special, but despite being brewed with a blend of pale malts and East Kent Goldings, the result is only an average beer. Best of the session was Fyne Maverick (4.2%), copper-coloured, nicely balanced ale, with a nice bitter edge. Also tried was Riverhead Marsden Best (4.1%) which I don’t think I’ve had since Ossett acquired the brewery. I’m glad to report that it’s much improved. It use to be pretty ropey with all sorts of strange flavours, depending on when you tried it. This version was relatively undemanding, but had a little bitterness that the old version never had.

The picture shows The Stomach enjoying Pride of Pendle

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Saturday Sport

This was more like it. Ronaldo secures the three points, England thrash Italy, Arsenal only draw, and then there was Wales. If that wasn’t enough to excuse a celebratory pint, then Google provides more. Apparently, I’m top of the search pile for anyone looking for “diacytol”. Well, I was, but a search today reveals I’ve slipped down to no 3. Such is the fleeting moment of fame. Anyway diacytol, diacytol, diacytol, diacytol-that should do the trick!

After yesterday’s adventures and with a day’s worth of sport to keep an eye on, I find myself once more at the Dogs. Dark Star Espresso (4.2%) is a classic of its type but one is enough on this occasion. White Park (a new brewery to me) at 4.5% was interesting. Reddish-brown, it had a smoky malt aroma which developed into a roast flavour that was perhaps a little too harsh. Dark Star Spring Equinox (4%) was much more like it. Pale and beautifully balanced, it eschewed the obvious (if tasty) option of overwhelming early hops, in favour of a long bitter finish. A great trade off that made for a very moreish pint. Pity some thirsty buggers drank it all. Rooster’s Cream (4.7%) was never going to match it and an alternative was quickly sort. The shock replacement was Northern-Night To Remember (4.2%) which was tawny and came with low expectations. However, there were good old fashioned English bittering hops on show here resulting in a pleasing bitter finish. Also worth mentioning is Keystone (yes, another new brewery to me) Cheer Up (4.6%) which was a tawny Porter with Fuggles hops clearly in there somewhere.

Unable to resist, and needing a change, it was time to hit the Robin Hood in Helmshore again. Copper Dragon as a nightcap is all that needs to be said here…

And then once more Pizza Pioneer came to the rescue of a tired, hungry, beerhound-God Bless Em’.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

A session at the Ox

So, happy Naomh Pádraig’s (St Patrick to you) day. Ok, it’s a wee bit early, but there I was at the New Oxford St Patrick’s Beer Festival. A good excuse to drink some new brews and discuss why we don’t hear more about Brigid of Kildare. The usual motley crew was augmented by the Whitefield Holts Bandit who had just flown back, his holdall overflowing with towels from Edinburgh’s finest hostelries, and his collection of donkey-hide posing pouches.

Finding a seat proved impossible at first as the combination of after work drinkers and early afternoon lingerers was at its height. A group of lesser-spotted scoopers were ensconced in a corner and looked like they were there for the duration. Usually a benign pest, they really only come to the fore when they take up space best used by more serious drinkers. However, patience paid off and we were eventually able to secure seats handily close to the bar. Let the drinking commence…

As is the practice at the Ox (hence the scoopers), there were many breweries I hadn’t even heard of, never mind tried their beers. Now this is a double edged sword, as although it’s interesting to try new brews, a lot of brand new micros just don’t produce very good beer. However, they seem to do better with dark beers-perhaps because you can hide more faults in them.

Anyway, quality of the porters and stouts was pretty good. There was some confusion over whether some beers were correctly labelled, but here’s what I found anyway. Hornbeam Silver Moon Stout (4.2) was a little thin, but I don’t really rate them as a brewery anyway. Interestingly, the Bazens special didn’t have that smoky taste that all their regular beers seem to have now-something to ponder over. Red Rat Craft Brewery Crazy Dog Stout (6%) certainly delivered a rich, roast, coffee texture, but it was hard to choose a favourite of that style. More promising was the quality of light beers. Bees Brewery, from Leicester, have only being going about a month, I believe, and yet their Navigator (4.5%) hints at potential. Sawbridgeworth Selhurst Park Flyer (3.8%) was even better with a nice, crisp, edge. Best beer was Norfolk Cottage’s Golden Spring Ale (4.5%) which had the level of hops you would expect from a mature and experienced brewer. Strangest beer was Cherwell’s Crospredy Bridge (4.2%) which was pure TCP.

Soon it was time to leave my perch and head back towards the wonders of Bury. Arriving refreshed, it was time for a nightcap at the TS before finally being evicted into the cold night and the alluring lights of Pizza Pioneer.

Friday, 14 March 2008

A Night To Remember

It was a night to remember alright. Well, at times it did seem like being on the deck of the Titanic as it quickly sank beneath the waves. It started innocently enough. Could I meet Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle, for a martini and a discussion on the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Perhaps I should have consulted the chicken bones more carefully? Anyway, the first signs should have set off alarm bells. The Railside had a reduced range on as they were clearing the decks for a big diesel weekend. Unfortunately for us, this only left Bazens Zebra as anything we really fancied. And even that was reluctantly, as recently Bazens have all had an unpleasant smoky taste. It proved an adequate, if undemanding, beer, but what has happened to the great Bazen taste?

Never mind says I. I’ve been keeping an eye on the Peel and the “coming soon” sign has been removed from Howard Town’s Wren’s Nest-if that’s on we will be in clover. So off to the peel we skipped. Wren’s Nest was turned round, but there seemed a fair spread of Bank Top beers to choose from. However, despite it being curry club night and student night, there was only one barman working. Service was made even slower by the fact that he kept disappearing into the back to bring out glasses. Our suspicions were confirmed when the glasses proved to be red hot-straight from the washer. Not ready for cold beer in hot glasses, we decided to move on and return later. If only we had tried the beer then, we could have ourselves some heartache later.
The weather proving very inclement, a taxi was proffered, and soon we heading for the Help Me Thro’. This was pleasantly busy with early evening locals, and we settled in the cosy side-room. The Wainwrights was as good as Thwaites gets and of a quality that the Two Tubs can only dream of. Next stop was the Dusty Miller where the guest beer was in good condition, but the real test is how it keeps the Premier. Mine was fine, but warm, whilst Eddie’s was cooler. We would have perhaps stayed longer here, but some local idjut decided to put some crap, sorry rap, music on. Thereby turning my brain to mush and making conversation difficult. A quick romp back to Bury was in order.

Ah, much more staff on at the Peel. Good. Wren’s Nest was off as they were cleaning the lines and this would take 5 hours. Maybe on tomorrow. Ok, then 2 pints of Bank Top Orient Line, then please. Not only was this mud but I made the mistake of actually tasting it. I nearly puked it was that bad-was there actually line cleaner in it? It certainly tasted like it. Bank Top Bikes and Trikes was also pure mud. The barman was most apologetic and seemed genuinely concerned-you could tell he was new! Moorhouses Blond Witch was offered and, guess what, that was duff as well. Had someone been in the cellar kicking all the casks? By now the manager was observing the farce, but no apology was forthcoming, only a shrug of the shoulders. To cut it short, all the beer allegedly on sale was unfit for human consumption. Shocking, even by the Peel’s poor standards. A letter detailing this ridiculous situation is now winging its way to Mr Martin. Unbelievable! Henceforth this will be known as the Troughside as the beer is only fit for farm sluice.

Now desperate, we called in at Wyldes next door. Ah, the Holts seasonal-Nuts & Holts. Lady luck had deserted us-this was hazy and had that cidery taste which is never good in beer. Tail between our legs we headed back to the Trackside where nearly all the cask beer had gone. However, at least there is always the excellent bottled range to fall back on. Thank God for the Germans, as the Poles never say. So it we ended up on bottles of Kolsch and Jever, but not before Eddie had confused the gormless barmaid by asking for isotonic Erdinger. Naughty Eddie. The fulltime whistle meant a stop at Pizza Pioneer for Eddie-only the best for eager, legal, beagles, and a nightcap for me at the Sam.

The picture shows what was purportedly available in the Robert Peel. Remember, not one of these was actually drinkable.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

I do like Mondays

"Monday Monday, so good to me,
Monday Monday, it was all I hoped it would be."

Well, it wasn’t bad anyway. Apparently it was gale force weather throughout Britain, and according to the news you shouldn’t venture out unnecessarily. I have to say that Manchester has seen much worse-note to Met Office; the South Coast does not constitute the whole of the country. Not that I could actually see much of it from my dining table at Innfusion. This is the restaurant at Jury’s Hotel on Great Bridgewater Street in Manchester. Pretty standard offerings, but they seem to have done it up a little since my last visit. The hotel bar is now known as the Inntro (geddit) Pub which seems a little optimistic, but it’s pleasant enough as far as these places go. However, this beerhound doesn’t settle for pleasant, and so it was time to move on to something more challenging.

Luckily that was provided by the Britons Protection just next door. This is one of the finest boozers in Manchester and has long been a hangout of mine. The multi-roomed historical interior is worthy of a look anytime and the beers usually in good nick as well. It’s also famous for its range of whiskies, but more of that in a moment. Although there were several casks available to sample, I plumped for Robinsons, knowing it’s easy to settle into a session on it. And so it proved, with tart biscuit flavours making it very moreish. However, the temptation to sample the whisky range proved just too great.

Deanston (12yr) proved light, quite smooth, with an interesting nutty twang. The Dalwhinnie (15yr), was pure gold in colour with a very firm body and honey notes. It drank very well with the malt giving way to a light peaty texture before a long, satisfying, finish. Very impressive. Even more so was the Lagavulin (12yr) which was pale-amber in colour and was very complex indeed. A smoky, sherry, flavour, gave way to an intense dry, peaty, body. One to linger over definitely. That was followed by---ok, I can’t quite remember, but then again I’m a beerhound, not Oz Clark!

Monday, 10 March 2008

Sunday Morning Coming Down

"On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
'Cos there's something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.

The glum mood at Tyson Towers hadn’t yet completely lifted. The hospital visit of Baroness T which had briefly lifted spirits had proved a disappointing false alarm. And then I had the misfortune to turn on the goggle box and catch The Andrew Marr Show. Who was doing the paper review but Kelvin Mackenzie. Amongst the many media arseholes out there, he truly is a prince. I’ve never heard a sober person talk so much unmitigated rubbish in such a short time. Quite an achievement really. Having dismissed the notion of child poverty in less than two minutes, he turned his glaring intellect on to a much more serious subject-pubs. Apparently he’s an expert on why these are closing, as well. Unfortunately, his favourite preface seems to be “The truth is,” which immediately tells you it’s the opposite. I got so mad I nearly choked on my duck croissant. Another one to add to my list of people, who, should we meet, will get a frank and fair exchange of views.

So it was time to take things upbeat. And what else better to fill the empty void of Sunday (apart from sex, obviously) than alcohol? It was all Tandleman’s fault. His waxing lyrical about Copper Dragon had given me thirst pangs. And, so it was, Sunday’s session was spent in the Robin Hood in Helmshore. This lovely little Copper Dragon tied pub soon had me back in sorts. Packed with locals, and a roaring fire, it’s just the sort of place to enjoy a few pints before tucking into your Sunday roast. I made do with several pints and a £1.60 cheese and tomato roll from M&S. Black Gold (3.7%) was very palatable, but Best Bitter (3.8%) was even better with a well balanced mix of malt and hops, leading to a pleasing bitter finish. Challenger IPA (4.4%) was deliciously fruity and very easy drinking. Golden Pippin needs no explanation and always delivers the money shot.

Just time for a couple in the Dogs-well it is on the way home, isn’t it? Bushy’s Buggane (4.4%) didn’t do anything for me, possibly because everyone kept calling it Bugger Me. Apparently, it’s named after a mischievous Max spirit. Have they finally named a beer after the Manx Minx? More to my palate was Blakemere Navajo (3.9%) who’s pale, crisp, hop taste, easily makes it their best beer.

Now bring on Monday...

Sunday, 9 March 2008

How much is too much?

Oh woe is me. It’s doom and gloom all round. Grown men crying in their Babycham and pain etched in their faces. What’s the matter, old boy? First the mighty Utd throw it all away at home, and then those buggers with rugger balls get beaten by the kilt wearing brigade. It’s enough to drive a man, never mind a beerhound, to drink. And then, amongst this carnival of tears, the topic of the £255 pint comes up for discussion.

Carlsberg have produced just 600 bottles of Jacobsen Vintage No 1. This 10.5% barley wine has taken two years to brew and with a 375ml bottle size, it equates to £255 a pint. Apparently it tastes like an intense mix of caramel and sherry. Which actually doesn’t sound too good. However, it’s been acclaimed by some “beer experts”, who claim it will change your perception of beer forever. And each bottle comes complete with an original lithographic print by Danish artist Frans Kannik. Probably could have done with a couple of them yesterday. Certainly a round or two on them would change your financial perception! But are they really worth it, old boy, I hear you ask? Patently not, but I must admit I wouldn’t mind trying one. After all, curiosity killed the cat, not the beerhound.

It doesn’t seem likely that I will get the opportunity to sample them, as half have already been sold, and I can’t see Tandleman buying up the other half. So I shall leave the last word to someone who has tried it. According to Ian Meakes, a project manager from Essex, “it tastes like the dregs at the bottom of a can of Becks.”

Yummy-perhaps it’s worth it after all...

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Carry on regardless

Thursday. Only Allagtes and Old Bear, both poor, in the Peel. What to do now? A message from Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle. Could I meet him to discuss the Relief of Mafeking? Never one to turn down such an opportunity, I agreed. So it was we endured another evening battling humulus lupulus. The Stomach, who was regaling us with his adventures in the Boer War, experimented with pretty much the full range before declaring Tempus Fugit the most palatable. Eddie and I, being veterans, went straight for Janine’s One, knowing it couldn’t last long. So it proved. With our considerable help, amongst much wailing, the cask eventually ran dry. Luckily, the replacement-O’Hanlon’s Yellowhammer was palatable enough to see out the rest of the night. Out of diligence, we tried Boggart Angel Hill. Thank God we only had a taster. This was phenol rich and an unbelievably bad beer. How do they get away with brewing such crap beer?

Again we were witnesses to the ebb and flow of customers. Faces, old and new, streamed past. Joe Stalin even stopped by for a chat. Now the only problem in being a celebrity beerhound is that the great unwashed will often approach you. So it was that Eddie and I found ourselves (yet again), assailed by disconcerted Camra members. It wasn’t long before we were beaten by the clock once again, leaving Eddie to head home into the arms of the Manx Minx, and me to grab a nightcap at the Sam.

TGIF. More of the same, really. An early finish meant I could catch up with the Whitefield Holts Bandit. He was looking for solace in alcohol, and that’s as good a reason as any for a bit of bar flying. Several ales were sampled-Bradfield Stout wasn’t bad and Anglo-Dutch Spikes on t’way (4.2%) was fresh, light, and fruity. However, Marble J.P Best (4.3%) proved especially appealing. Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle popped in after work and was soon joined by Dave the Rave. Both of them are notoriously fishy buggers and were obviously planning an evening of drunken debauchery. Luckily, my evening engagement meant that I didn’t have to witness their nefarious deeds.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Ramsbottom Ramble

A gentle ramble took me to the extremities of Bury’s drinking area. To infinity and beyond. Or to Ramsbottom and beyond to be accurate. Passing through Ramsbottom’s famous real ale mile, I experienced both sides of being a real ale fan-joy and disappointment. I also picked up some juicy gossip titbits which is always a bonus.

First the joy. Surveying the bar at the Dogs, I immediately ruled out the offerings by Wentworth and Blakemere on the grounds of being dubious brewers. Dark Star Espresso (5%) is a good drink, but I settled on Saltaire Yorkshire Pale, which from our excursion to Halifax, I knew to be a good beer. So it proved, with a very refreshing clean hop taste. Outlaw Wild Mule was also excellent, as usual. Over at the Good Sam, I was forced to try Roosters YPA which was very pleasant. Grindleton Old Fecker (named after Don Ricardo?) at 4% was lighter than a traditional bitter, but had that mix of roast bitterness that one associates with that style-not too bad at all. Of course, the Pippin was on form as usual, leaving only the Lees untried. Which is what I should have done at the next pub!

The Railway is the next pub up from the Good Sam, just over the railway line, and adjacent to the ELR station. Last year it was taken over by the licensee of the GBG listed Albion in Whitworth and expectations were high. Unfortunately, they proved optimistic. Whilst initially there were 5 beers on, quality was an issue, and it struggled in the ultra-competitive Ramsbottom pub scene. I had heard it had gotten even worse so decided to put it to the test. The place itself is smartly decorated and has a very nice outdoor drinking area. It lacks the atmosphere of some of Ramsbottom’s hostelries, but it’s the sort of place you want to like. First impressions weren’t very good. The barmaid-a pretty, Yorkshire lass, was deep in conversation with her friends at the bar. Although we were the only customers in the place, she left us waiting at the bar while she served her friends. Beer choice was 2 pumps serving Lees and 2 pumps serving Black Sheep, with Spitfire turned round. The Lees was warm, flat, and indifferent, with the Black Sheep even worse. It lacked any condition at all and had a cloying taste making it just about drinkable. All for £2.35. The menu had items like bacon & brie sandwiches with mango chutney, but no essentials like a ploughman’s. What with the prices and the quality, I can see why it’s not got the locals flocking in.

A strong finish at the TS though. Robinsons Tempus Fugit (4.2%) was ok, if a little sweet. However, there was only one real choice for the connoisseur -Marble’s Janine’s One. This 3.9% is a classic, with lemon and pine notes, and a stunning bitter hop finish. Just what the doctor ordered to take me into the wee small hours. Only problem then is getting a decent pizza at 130am. When will the government tackle this major problem???
The pictures are of the interior of the Railway at Ramsbottom.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Lets go foreign

When given the opportunity to combine two of my hobbies, I usually jump at the chance. Thus the adventure of a night on the ale, and a visit to the Theatre of Dreams proved too tempting. And what a night-pure poetry in motion and luckily I had a good view of the action. And that was just the barmaid in the Thirsty Scholar!

Pre match drinking was a leisurely crawl of the bottom end of Deansgate/Oxford Road, with the compulsory stops at Knott Bar, Kro Bar etc. Cask at the corner of Liverpool Road proved particularly popular, so much so, that it was chosen as first port of call on the return journey. It’s a small continental style bar that specialises in foreign beer, although, as the name suggests, it does sell cask ale. What sets it apart from the many clones that seem intent on promoting only Belgium beers is the range of German beers. I always think it’s a pity that more places don’t get some decent Kraut stuff in. Is it a case of don’t mention the war?

Anyway, going with the flow, I tried some of the Belgium delights. Vedett Extra Blond (5.2%) brewed by Duvel I believe, was indeed blonde and crystal clear. An initial sweetness gave way to a rather refreshing moderate bitterness. Westmalle Triple (9.5%) was hazy gold in colour with an aromatic mix of citrus and sweet malt on the nose. Complex tasting, it has tart fruit, hops and alcohol in the body. Another classic is Pauwel Kwak (8%) whose smooth taste belies its strength.

Crossing the Maginot Line, I tucked into Schneider Weisse (5.4%) and a Paulaner Hefe Weisbier, pretty mainstream, but proven quality drinking. The Erdinger Dunkel (5.6%) wasn’t to my taste. Sweet caramel and smoky flavours don’t do it for me. On the other hand Erdinger Pikantus, despite being 7.6%, was much better balanced, if not still quite the drink for me.

A very enjoyable session, with an unusual amount of time given over to our foreign cousins. If only they would return the compliment…

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Forever Bury

Forever Bury is the name of the fans group dedicated to raising funds for the Bury FC-the mighty Shakers. There are various initiatives-car boots and the like. However, one of the main ones is an annual beer festival. Hence I found myself at Gigg Lane Social Club, tokens and glass in hand, waiting eagerly for that first drink of the day. Getting in for 1230 ensured a choice of seats-ideally as far away as the forthcoming entertainment as possible. Although this did make the football scores hard to read, thereby reminding us that life isn’t all beer and marmite.

A glass of Iceni Pilot 4% (light, but diacytol tang) and the descent into drunken excess had begun. Sooner or later, all the local drunks, sorry real ale connoisseurs, made an appearance. There was Plating John, Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle, the Whitefield Holts Bandit, Pythagoras and even Mr & Mrs Metrolink made an appearance. Jolly Brewer’s Jonathon’s Lager 4.5% was light and pleasant, whilst their Dusky Maiden 6.7% was an interesting attempt at a German dark lager, although I would quibble over whether malt flavours can ever be actually refreshing, as stated in the tasting notes. Foxfield’s John Peel 3.9% had a nice hop kick and was quite tasty for a low vol beer.

Meanwhile, the beer minutes ticked away and the festival started to get busy with post match drinkers. Tigertops Orange Glow 3.8% was slightly disappointing, with the added orange peel failing to add enough punch to a standard wheat beer. Their Mr Rye 4.8% was just a bad idea, with the added rye giving it an unpleasant harsh taste. As people started to drift away, it was time to think about going. So the excellent West Croft Janet’s Jungle Juice 6.0% was sampled. This is a very tasty, refreshing cider that was soon devoured by the greedy masses. And so, home time. But, wait, what’s this? A phone call asking if we were staying on for the evening session? I couldn’t speak for Plating John, or Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle, but I was definitely leaving. Except, I didn’t. And so the descent into etc…

John bravely battled on, but when he proclaimed Leyden Raglan Sleeve the greatest beer in the world, ever, we knew he’d had enough! He was looking a bit green around the gills, and was in danger of doing a Don Ricardo, so he wisely retired. And so, eventually, after more than 10 hours on duty, so did I. I headed for the late night sustenance of fish & chips, leaving Eddie humming the Horst Wessel Lied as he rambled homewards.

Plus points of the festival-the simplified token system. One token for a half and two for a pint was great, particularly as this applied to all beers, ciders and even foreign beers. And these were proper tokens, big, solid plastic, types. Food portions were also good and filling. On the minus side, no effort at all was being made to cool the beers. Therefore, considering the festival had been open since Thursday, it was no surprise that by late Sat, condition wasn’t what it should have been. Best beer was Marble Manchester Bitter. Worst beer was Boggart’s laughable effort.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

When is a pub not a pub?

Anyone coming into Bury by car, or walking through the shopping precinct will come across the abnormality pictured above. The Flying Shuttle (AKA The Showboat, AKA Liberty Avenue etc) to give it its original, and proper, name is a strange beast. A new build opened by Thwaites in 1983, it takes its name from John Kay’s famous textile invention. Although exteriorly unattractive, it had some attractive traditional features. There were two rooms, each with their own entrances and bar-one large lounge and a pool room. It projected an image of comfortable prosperity and encouraged (then still relatively rare), lunch time diners. Being so close to the precinct, it was a gold mine and operated a strict code for dress and behaviour. Indeed, it passed into Bury folklore for banning Dan Juan Ricardo on its opening day for the sin of wearing a leather jacket!

However, fast forward to the late 90s and a different picture emerges. Standards had dropped due to changes in management and cask, when on, was poor. Being next door to a nightclub-Sol (known to locals as the Sweaty Beaver), meant that it became known as a handy place to score cheap E’s. Slowly daytime trade ebbed away. Into the Noughties and the change was complete. The place was an unmitigated dump. A very basic choice of bottled beers at crazy prices, the loss of the food trade, and even the eventual falling away of the drugs culture, didn’t help attract to attract new customers.

Recently we had the fiasco of an inept landlord splitting the pub into two to form a gay and a straight half. Bizarre. As it turns out, apart from being a gobshite ((I’m going to defy the smoking ban), the landlord proved less of a gay rights campaigner and more of a crook, running off in less than ideal circumstances. Today the pub is better run, but still not more appealing. Half the pub is now a separate café and one half is, er, a pub. The pub half is still dismal, just when competition is fiercer than ever. Now I haven’t tried JT’s café yet, although they do advertise plate pies, and as Don Ricardo will tell you, you can’t beat a bit of plate pie. But, the bottom line is that if it’s a pub, it should start acting like one. The clock is ticking…