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 October 2011

Booths@MediaCityUK

Booths are the rather posh supermarket chain so beloved by the posh folk of the Fylde coast. Founded in 1847 in Blackpool, the company is still run by the Booth family and they now have 26 stores. Their emphasis is on locality and freshness-they are partners with Slow Food UK; thus marking them out against the other major chains. 

Traditionally they’ve been found in deepest Lancashire and Cumbria-places you either don’t want to go to or can’t get to easily. Now they have opened a store in that cradle of civilisation: Salford. Hooray. You see, I like Booths. They actually sell things I want to buy. Unlike the shit that Tesco seems to mainly fill its shelves with.
Being famous for their range of bread, beer and cheese; all a beerhound needs to live, I naturally felt obliged to pay the new store a visit. It’s in the funky (i.e. posh) MediaCityUK which, naturally, is at the terminus of the MediaCityUK tram line. This is like a Salford version of the DLR, but not quite as good, obviously.
You can tell they’re catering for the BBC personnel who are missing London, though, as the stops have real time updates. Something the peasants on the Bury line can only dream of. Anyway, the store is only a few minutes’ walk from the tram stop and is laid out over two floors.

Downstairs is the fresh food: bread, fishmongers, butchers, cheesemongers etc. There is also hot food available as well. Upstairs is where the real treasure lies. Lots and lots of beer. And cider as well. Some interesting bottles here and surprisingly reasonably priced as well. Many were £1.49 and Adnams Lighthouse was only £1.09 a bottle.

So although my wallet will feel the pain, it’s a warm welcome to Booths@MediaCityUK.

Booths can be found at The Garage, Red, MediaCityUK, Salford, M50 2BS. Yes, it is a weird address.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The One Stop No Shop

As regular readers (and there are some) will know, one of my pet hates is the overzealous shop assistant who demands proof of age when all sense and logic dictates there is no need. Several cases have been highlighted on this blog, but the latest example is a real doozy.

Diane Taylor wanted to buy her son a bottle of whisky. So she popped into a local One Stop Shop to do so. However, she was refused the sale on the grounds that she couldn’t produce any photo ID as proof of age. Considering the great-grandmother is-and I hope she won’t mind me saying this-no longer in the first flush of youth; this is somewhat of a farce.

Mrs Taylor is in fact 92. Yes, 92. And, despite producing a blood donor card and her bus pass, the witless zombie of an assistant refused to budge. As she herself put it later:”No one can convince me that I look under 25-I’ll only take 78 at a push”.

A One Stop Shop spokesman later apologised, but said staff cannot sell alcohol without seeing proof of age. What? If a 92 year great-grandmother standing in front of you isn’t proof of age, then I don’t know what is.

And what was the outcome of all this? Mrs Taylor simply went and bought her bottle elsewhere. Well done One Stop Shop. I hereby award you the title of Jobsworth of the Week.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

SIBA Great Northern Beer Festival

The second SIBA Great Northern Beer Festival is well under way and will be reaching its climax today. Last year’s event was, frankly, a bit of a damp squib with too little publicity and too much focus on the appearance of Hugh & Oz. The result was less than satisfactory for all concerned.

This year’s event should prove a lot better. The festival is at the Mercure (ex Ramada) Piccadilly which, for my money, is a better venue location and facilities wise. The publicity level was ramped up and numbers on the opening night were up on last year. Certainly the choice is unrivalled; 64 beers on handpump and with sparkler-what more could you want?
Sadly, there was some disappointment on the Thursday evening as several beers performed under par. Earlier favourites such as Allgates Double Citra soon disappeared and fans of hoppy beer were left somewhat flummoxed. However, a late surge did hold out some hope for future sessions (hopefully today) with Saltaire Stateside IPA being in particularly good form.

Alas, as per last year, I didn’t get any pictures of Tandleman working-I’m not that quick. However, I did get to have an enjoyable drink and a chat with Erlangernick, and the mighty Hardknott Sooty who was accompanied by his two handlers, Dave and Anne.

Congratulations to Hawkshead for winning the champion beer trophy with their Windermere Pale. A well deserved win for an incredible beer.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Oast House

It’s often been said that what Manchester lacks is a Kentish oast house. Maybe not by me. Or you. But someone must have thought it was needed because that’s what we’ve now got. An oast house. From Kent. In return, I believe, the good people of Kent got an IOU signed by Carlos Tevez.

Oh, and before we go any further, for those not familiar with the vernacular, an oast house is somewhere where hops are dried. Like they have in Kent. This one has apparently been shipped brick by brick, via Ireland, to Spinningfields.

Spinningfields is the ultra modern business, retail and residential development that lies between Manchester Deansgate and the River Irwell. What it has been lacking is decent leisure facilities and, of course, what I mean by that is a decent pub. That is where the oast house, from Kent, comes in.

The Oast House is the latest innovation from the Living Ventures Group who own the nearby Alchemist bar. Its design is very different to anything nearby or elsewhere for that matter and, indeed, came in for some controversy for being so. But I think they must be applauded for their innovation.

The Oast House has something of the Swiss chalet about it and there almost seemed a holiday vibe inside. This being only the second day of opening, it was rammed full of people eager to try the new kid on the block. Last night was the launch night and the place was full of champagne swigging celebrities such as Ryan Giggs and Eddie, the eager, legal beagle.

There seems to be a good range of drinks available including American and German beers. There are also four cask ales available via tap on the back wall. I would have preferred them to be more prominently displayed; via handpump on the lengthy bar, but this style of dispense almost seems du jour in the modern bar. Pints are around the £3.30 mark, but the Jaipur I’ve been on is £4 a pint.

An interesting and welcome addition to the Manchester scene. As usual, sustained quality will be the ultimate test.

An unusual feature is the outside kitchen. They wanted one, but there wasn't room inside, hence the separate structure. It's Manchester's first external kitchen, and could possinly be be the country's first permanent outdoor kitchen.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Chorlton Crawl

Chorlton-cum-Hardy or simply Chorlton, if you’re local, is a little suburb of Manchester lying some 4 miles southwest of the city centre. With a population of around 14,000, it’s a mix of yuppies (de rigueur MacBook), students (de rigueur cycles) and a large housing estate at the Chorlton Green end of town.

There’s a London vibe to it-it’s busy in the week-and there are plenty of delis as well as a plethora of (mainly) bars and pubs. Beer isn’t cheap; expect to pay £3.20 a pint, but it’s the unusual high concentration of real ale that attracts many drinkers to make the trip out of town.
The Metrolink has recently started running through Chorlton making it even easier to get to and enabling you to avoid the waccy-baccy smokers who seem to populate the buses through Moss Side. With this convenience in mind, I undertook a crawl of CUH yesterday with the redoubtable Tandleman.
First stop was Oddest. They usually have a good selection on here and it just so happens to be nearest to the tram stop. We weren’t disappointed and soon were tucking into Mallinsons Citra. Of course, one is never enough. We also tried Red Willow Macclesfield Bitter and found it to be a quite pleasant golden session beer.
It all went drunkenly downhill from there as is the wont when Tandleman is involved. Highlights include discovering a Grafton beer on in Escape and practically sitting on the floor as we lounged in Parlour. We also paid a nostalgic trip to the Beech and sat in the window where Mr T used to sit when he lived in the area. A blue plaque will no doubt follow shortly.

Across the road, the Horse and Jockey offered us two delights. Not only was Dark Star American Pale available but Tanders, genetically bred to spot a bargain from 50 metres, saw the chance to buy bottles of Flying Dog Raging Bitch for the knock down price of £2.25. Sadly, they’re not as daft as they look round there, and our joy was limited to the one bottle. Still it set us up nicely for the crawl back to the station.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Manchester Whisky Festival

Another year, another Manchester Food and Drink Whisky Festival. Last weekend saw the third one take place and, like every year, I felt obliged to attend. So, alongside Eddie, the eager legal beagle, Archimedes and the Whitefield Holts Bandit, we took a walk on the Scotch side of town.

Every year the event gets bigger and better. This year saw it held at the Lowry in Salford. The premise is simple. You pays your money and then have four hours to sample as many whiskies as you can. Binge drinking for the connoisseur pisshead, if you like.
video
There are different approaches to handling it and everyone has their own strategy. Some go alphabetically, some go clockwise, and some try to seek out the rarest whisky they can find. My own approach is to avoid the stingy bastards and find the person with the shakiest hands when dishing out the measures.
Technically they advise that you progress through the five broad types in order. So, delicate and sweet first (e.g. Glenlivet), then fruity and floral (e.g. Jura), and then rich and spicy (e.g. Evan Williams). The last two are robust and tangy (e.g. Oban) and intense and peaty (e.g. Ardbeg).
Without boring you with exact lists-you lose track after about 20-it’s safe to assume that I, along with the experienced imbibers, ignored the technical approach. One thing did become clear: the likes of Taiwan, Korea and even Japan have a long way to go to match the finest offerings of Scotland & Ireland.
Of course, four hours of whisky tasting takes its toll. Especially if you warmed up with some excellent pints of Allgates, spicy Bohemian hopped, Vital and the crisp Oregon hops of Santiam. So a wind down course of more beer was prescribed to restore our drinking chi.
First stop was the newly reopened Black Lion in Salford. Here I was glad to see the return of a quality beer (Roosters Yankee back in form) served correctly, i.e. with sparkler. A couple here led naturally to the Port Street Beer House where Kirkstall Pale Ale was the top dog. Less impressive was the keg offering of Thornbridge Wild Swan-once again a shadow of its cask form.
Just when we were leaving, Jan and Dean staggered in and forced another drink in our hand, but then it really was night-night time. It was back to that Garden of Eden, Bury, where, unlike London, you can get a decent late night pizza on a Saturday. A good day out, even if we didn’t squeeze any cider in.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Manchester's Not So Super Superloo

This is one of Manchester's so called "superloos" on Stevenson Square. Manchester City Council leases each one from JCDecaux at a cost of £28,000 per year. But lack of use-hardly surprising if this is typical-means that they only raise an average of £3,400 in revenue. Leaving the Manchester taxpayer to stump up the rest. Makes you glad not to be one of those, eh? Here's an idea: what with the shortage of public loos in Manchester, why not ditch the superloo and, with the saving, employ somebody to supervise a proper toliet?

Manchester Food & Drink Festival

Talking of festivals, Manchester’s annual Food & Drink Festival is currently in full swing and heading for its climax this weekend. There’s cooking demonstrations, food stalls-plenty of cheese, and lots to delight the olfactory system. Look out for the old pizzeria van and grab yourself a great pizza courtesy of their amazing portable fibreglass clay ovens.

Drinks wise, there’s the cocktails tent and of course, the beer festival hub. Here they’ve had a range of beers on, all served in soft, non-plastic, biodegradable cups.  Allgates Citra seemed particularly popular.
Today it was the turn of Stockport brewers Robinsons to take centre stage. Debuting was the new beer from Bury’s very own megastars Elbow. Named after their album, it’s an easy drinking 4% golden ale. Also on offer is the full range of Robinsons and there’s Chocolate Tom in bottles. There’s also the Old Tom Ploughman’s, although it’s not really a Ploughman’s as it comes with pate.

Beer Festivals: Soup Kitchen

Once beer festivals were the almost exclusive domain of CAMRA and perhaps a few specialist pubs. Increasingly however, with some notable exceptions, we are seeing the decline of the traditional CAMRA festival. More and more pubs and non traditional venues are holding them. The current Wetherspoons promotion is a good case in point. Organised on a national scale, it’s hard to beat for choice and price.
There’s no doubt this increase of choice is a good thing. But there’s a danger sometimes that this leads to more enthusiasm than quality. After all, beer festivals can be tricky beasts at the best of times, and organising the first one brings problem of its own. I was interested, therefore, to learn that the Soup Kitchen in Manchester was holding its inaugural festival.
The Soup Kitchen is on Spear St. Not far from the Port St Beer House, it’s now established itself on the extended Manchester N/4 beer crawl. It offers a limited, but often unusual, beer selection in a relaxed, mock canteen environment. They’ve recently opened up the downstairs area complete with two handpumps for weekend use.
It was downstairs that the festival was held. Originally there was going to be an admission charge, but they managed to arrange it so that there was no charge. This was welcome news as pubs/bars charging for entry for what will be a not-so-large range of beers is a no-no in my book.
There were about thirteen beers offered on gravity-sadly no handpumps-and three ciders. The free glasses were of the hard plastic variety and the beer choice was definitely on the ticking side. Indeed, two scoopers were the only other customers at the time. However, the beer quality was generally (one duff half) fine and you could imagine a good ambience in here come late on.
So, a welcome start, but a few points I’d like to see addressed. Firstly, you really should be using handpulls in this type of environment. Secondly, think about the beer range. If it’s a ticking fest, it needs to be advertised along those lines. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it does usually mean a lack of tasting notes which a lot of people find useful.
And finally: temperature. There were several fans blowing, but this is a warm environment, even before it gets busy, and plastic glasses don’t help. So, a more proactive approach to this next time, please. Even if it's just the old water and cloth trick. Sort that and I think the next one will be spot on.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Oxford Companion to Beer

Firstly, my thanks to Linda and the kind folks at OUP for sending me a copy of this hefty beast. I’ve finally found some time to have a little look at it and it’s been quite rewarding. It aims to be the beer equivalent of the well regarded Companion to Wine and at one level, the Companion to Food and Drink. And in many ways it succeeds.

Let’s be clear from the start. This is a scholarly work. With over 1100 entries and 166 contributors, it lays a serious claim to be the most comprehensive single book ever published on the subject. It certainly goes beyond the usual detail often found in the books that bestride the beer-buffs bookshelf. That’s not to say that it’s not for the layperson or that it’s densely written. It isn’t, but some of the articles may lead to some head scratching amongst non-brewers.

As is usual with these kinds of books, I found the best way to appreciate it was by dipping in at random. This is made easier by the alphabetical layout, which is heavily cross-referenced, but there is also a more narrative approach with subjects gathered together by topic. Dipping in I immediately discovered what a beer week was and why some imbibers develop red noses.

Of course, there is more to the subject of beer than simply lists of beer styles and hops etc. The Companion discusses issues such as social media, beer culture, and many other relevant topics. No doubt some of which will be debated. Speaking of controversy, I know you, like me, are eager to discover what it has to say about those little plastic beer angels...sparklers.

Well, it starts well by admitting there is heated debate about their use. Indeed to quote:”So heated is the debate over the sparkler that even the usually bombastic CAMRA sidesteps the issue.” Bombastic, eh? Ooh er.

Sadly, the article then goes on to try to simplify matters by perpetuating the myth that it is mainly a geographical divide. Oh well, nobody’s perfect. Garrett, I am available to write the correction for the second edition.

Quibbles aside, I think this will find itself on many a bookshelf come birthday/Christmas time. Anything that tries to raise the serious profile of beer and put it where it belongs; alongside the likes of wine and whisky, is to be commended. Just check the sparkler facts next time.

Update: The book is proving hugely controversial among beer aficonados now that they have had time to go through it. There seem to be huge gaps in its accuracies. On the chemical/brewing side-which is what I examined first-it's fine. So you can find all about hops and the brewing process, for example. However, when it comes to things like historical data-Scottish beer, for example, it's very patchy. So it's a case of buyer beware. Or wait till the second edition.

The Oxford Companion to Beer is published by OUP and retails at £21.00

Monday, 3 October 2011

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale

Bit in the doldrums today. So it’s time to reach for something with a hop kick to blast those blues away. Come on down Shoals Pale Ale from Smuttynose Brewing Company from New Hampshire, USA.

Basics: It’s an unfiltered 12fl oz bottle and is 5% ABV. It poured amber with a solid white head. There was a pungent, very appealing, aroma of bread/biscuit malt and plenty of tart fruit hops.
Taste: Medium bodied and very accomplished. There’s pepper and pine hops carefully matched to a doughy malt backbone. A crisp hop bitterness tingles in the mouth.
Finish: Crisp and lingering bitterness.
Conclusion: Tasty. An excellent example of the American Pale Ale style.