Sunday, 20 October 2013
It’s a well-known fact that Bury is the brewing capital of the UK. The air is heavy with malt and hops as out mighty breweries work tirelessly to quench the thirst of the working man. You might think the last thing we need is another brewery, but you’d be wrong. After all, you can’t have too many breweries. So, in a move that can only cement Bury’s reputation, Silver St Brewing Co have launched their first beer. Based in the so-to-be-opened Clarence pub on (wait for it) Silver St; this is labelled 001 and tells you that it's a light ale.. It’s made with NZ hops and is a pale 4% beer that has a good, dry, bitter finish. Very promising, I have to say. Look out for their beers at the upcoming Bury Beer Festival.
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Beer festivals. You either love ‘em or you’re a bit weird. I mean they are the only legal thing that you can do without feeling guilty that you should be in the pub. Ok maybe one of two things. But back to IndyManBeerCon. This beer festival, that had its premier last year, was back. Back in the splendour of the Victorian Baths, but bigger and better. Yes, it wasn’t just their abbreviation that had been upgraded. The whole festival had been supersized. But bigger isn’t necessarily better; so how did it fare?
The basic setup was the same as last year. Entry was by advance ticket only and once inside tokens, equivalent to 50p and £1, were purchased in batches of £10. This year, however, the festival had expanded to take in Thurs-Sun sessions with a varying rota of beers for each day. To accommodate this, more use of the Baths was made with bars in Rooms 1-3 and Magic Rock holding court in the Turkish Bath room. I thought this an excellent layout with the live music, which was pretty good from what I heard, confined to room 3.
What else do you need to know? Well the food was excellent: plenty of quality choices but with Chaat Cart in attendance, there could only be one winner. One welcome addition was the introduction of draught Italian beer this year. There’s some cracking stuff being produced over there and they even had the sublime Toccalmatto on cask. Respect! Of course this was all dispended in dinky third glasses that were very nice. But, judging by the broken glass trail on Friday night, perhaps a little too delicate for some people to get home safely.
There was more beer, better beer than last year. More seating, erm, better seating than last year. Disabled access was better. I think you’re getting the picture. In summary, if you weren’t there, you missed a treat. I was going to tell you which was my favourite session but then you might turn up and spoil it next time, Ok that’s enough rambling, I hear the crowd roar. What about the beer? Without further ado, then, out of the 35 beers I had or, more precisely, can recall having, these stood out:
- Toccalmatto Ambrosia Complex and tasty floral-elderflower, jasmine-and spiced citrusy wheat beer from Bruno and co.
- Hawkshead Great White This wheat beer put even Toccalmatto in the shade. Crisp and punchy lemon flavours made this a great refresher. One of the beers of the festival.
- Mikkeller It’s Alive Barrel Aged Chardonnay Mango Well this had the barrel-aged brettheads swooning but it was basically rubbish. Leather yes, but no mango.
- Thornbridge Otters Tears This was a collaboration with the IndyManBeerCon team in memory of Simon Johnson. A beautifully balanced IPA that was very drinkable.
- Buxton Dry Hopped Gold My beer of the festival. A sublime fruit driven hop kick that just demanded you come back for more.
- Redchurch Shoreditch Blonde Disappointing blonde ale that comes across as a lager hybrid. The Belgian yeast is not helped by the sweet malt backbone.
- Toccalmatto Zona Cessarini Their classic IPA on nandpump? Say no more.
- Beavertown Black Betty Aged I think this is a black IPA aged in bourbon barrels-the brewer did tell me-I may be wrong. Either way, it was rich and vinous but I think I prefer the normal version.
- Brodies Citra At 3.1% this is the best low strength beer out there. Does what it says on the tin and without the alcohol.
- Brodies London Sour Apricot The programme said Mandarin but we got Apricot instead. Nice if you like having the enamel stripped off your teeth. Yes, no doubt someone thought it was the beer of the festival but they’d be wrong. It was bloody awful.
- To Øl Fuck Art This is Advertising Another duffer. Heavy on the alcohol, well it is 11.3% but little going for it, otherwise.
- Weird Beard Hoppy American Wheat I was sceptical of this but it did deliver the best of both styles. Drinkable for 5.5% as well.
Y:all come back now, y'hear...
Update: Anyone with unwanted tokens can donate them to the Victoria Baths restoration project by posting them or delivering them in person to Port Street Beer House
Thursday, 10 October 2013
And we’re off. Yes, the Wetherspoons beer festival is once more upon us. What’s that you say? It starts next week? Yes, to you mere mortals, perhaps. But up here in the cutting edge of Lancashire, we are given the same status as London and have started early. Now once upon a time, a Spoons festival was highly anticipated. I remember trekking round Manchester with a well-known beer blogger in search of an elusive beer or two. However, the last couple have been a little lacklustre and cost cutting seemed evident when the last once couldn’t even produce a decent programme.
To their credit, they have taken the criticism on board and have promised a much better experience this time around. The programme is certainly an improvement. Fitting in with their plan of flirting with craft and bringing over American brewers, they have a range of USA beers brewed at various breweries around the UK. This is obviously their pièce de résistance and has had the ticking fraternity frothing at the mouth for some time. When actually faced with them; they revert to playing beer bingo and ticking their-alphabetically arranged, naturally, lists.
But are they any good, Tyson, I hear the cheap seats shout. Well, having had eight of the ten available, my initial thoughts are:
Stone Supremely Self Conscious Black AleEasily the best of the bunch. A stunning Black IPA that really delivers in the hops department. When I tell you that the Cascade, Centennial, Citra, First Gold, Galaxy, Simcoe and Sterling are used to maximum effect, you may get an idea of just how good this is.
Terrapin Tree HuggerNot really to my taste, but this is a solid attempt at an Altbier. Spicy hop aroma and definite notes of caramel and toffee. Spoilt for me by a Shepherd Neame tang, perhaps not surprising given where it was brewed.
Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPAElysian are a very good brewery and Dick Cantwell has travelled all the way from Seattle to Thwaites to brew this speciality IPA. Crisp and floral, the jasmine is subtle enough to carry it off.
Ballast Point Even KeelBrewed at Marstons, this was the dud amongst the bunch. Supposedly full of lemon and grapefruit, in reality it had crystal malt weeping from its arse and was a malt mash disaster.
Tonight I’ll be wearing my Union Jack underpants and trying some of the British brewers’ efforts. I do the hard work, so you don’t have to.
Wednesday, 9 October 2013
Now anyone who has attended Port Street Beer House regularly or numerous other Manchester/Stockport watering holes cannot have failed to come across Jay Krause. Not that I’m saying he likes a drink (shhh, he may do) but as the owner, brewer, cask-washer of Quantum Brewery, he has to mingle doesn’t he? Anyway, it’s the brewing bit that interested me. A brewery. In Stockport. Sounds like a double whammy of intoxicating love. Or should that be a love of intoxication? Either way it was resolved that a visit was in order.
Now Quantum is notoriously well hidden. For good reason: the good people of Stockport are well known for their love of imbibing and advertising temptation would be just asking for trouble. Plus there’s always the philistines who may simply want to melt it all down for Chinese money. So let’s just say it’s off Hempshaw Lane which is an invigorating walk out of town. Operating since 2011 on a 5 BBL plant, the resourceful; Mr Krause is a true one man band who has somehow managed to adapt his equipment to produce some unusual beers in all the requisite formats: cask, keg and bottle.
Jay really is a very nice guy who patiently explained concepts such as Keykeg to the assembled numpties. And, despite his threats/promises to swamp the CAMRA contingent with keg, there were two barrels of the ‘real stuff’ to keep them happy. He also let us sample an Imperial Stout from the conditioning tank and there was talk of barrel-ageing and collaborations with Brewdog. Frankly my eyes had already glazed over on sampling the excellent NZ Light and I probably spent too much time drinking and not enough time listening. No change there, eh?
A very enjoyable afternoon and heartfelt thanks to Jay for entertaining us.
Friday, 4 October 2013
Glasgow is well known as a crime free city. After all, they retired Taggart, didn’t they? So if you were wondering how the police spend their seemingly ample free time, then this story in the Daily Record will enlighten you. Some people may question whether it is a little heavy-handed. Others may wonder if it’s not more properly the job of local authority enforcement officers. But if being short changed over a sausage roll when ordering a breakfast beer isn’t a police matter, I don’t know what is.
Thursday, 3 October 2013
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
All good things must come to an end. Or so the ancient sages would have us believe. And so it has come to pass for the real ale dwellers of Bury. In a body blow that will have repercussions for several other watering holes; the long serving landlord of the Hare & Hounds in Holcombe Brook, Andy Grant, will be leaving next Monday. Together with his wife Lynn and his trusty bar elves, he turned the fortunes of the Dogs around-transforming it from a drug friendly dive to a family friendly cask oasis.
Liking a drop or two himself, the pub went from serving two badly kept usual suspects to a well kept range of ten. He also ran the biggest pub festival in the country, attracting tickers from near and far, but ensuring all the beer was cellar cooled and served with sparkler. This dedication to quality has ensured that he has built up quite a following locally. Indeed I’m betting that, apart from his many awards, his proudest achievement is that I have made it my local for nigh on these many years. He’s never actually said it, but I’m sure he’s thinking it.
|In happier times. Receiving an award from the local CAMRA chairman|
Of course he’s got his quirks. But we’ve learnt to overlook them. The fact that he’s a Yorkshireman, living in deepest Lancashire, who supports Liverpool, is never mentioned in polite company. But the new management at the owning pubco have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that his face no longer fits. Despite the high turnover, there is no longer room for mavericks. They have regional brands that need promoting. It’s do it our way or hit the highway. That is not the best way to manage a past winner of the National Provincial Police Award for bravery. Consequently and quite rightly, he has told them where to go.
No doubt there will have been some beer supped and some tears shed on Sunday by the time last orders are called.
Wednesday, 2 October 2013
There has been some discussion within the online beer community as to whether craft beer has broken out of its ‘bubble’. Specifically whether it has landed, the so-called Brewdog test, in your local Wetherspoons yet. Like the Loch Ness monster there have been several reported sightings but, like George Osborne’s economic plans, they don’t seem to hold up to scrutiny. But it looks like, in Manchester city centre at least; that the Brewdog test has-literally-been met. Albeit in bottled, not draught, form.
Manchester city centre is in one of these craft ‘bubbles’ and the arrival of Brewdog, alongside the likes of Port Street Beer House, has helped accelerate the demand for draught and bottled craft beer. At a price, naturally. Now Tim Martin’s little emporiums have always been given flexibility to react to local markets: the Heywood branch was for many years the cheapest in the country. So it should come as no surprise that they want a piece of the Manchester craft scene.
After all, it makes sense. They’re not going to have to deviate too much from their winning format but if a tweak here and there can generate extra business, then so be it. And the easiest way to accomplish that is through their bottled beer range. Traditionally the Wetherspoons range has been pretty poor. The usual suspects interspersed with some cheap foreign imports. No quality German beers and certainly no American beers. And, of course, no British craft.
Now that’s all changing as a range of bottled craft beer is being rolled out. A small but solid list that includes the likes of Brewdog (cheeky or merely a prelude to the arrival of draught Punk IPA?) and Goose Island. Naturally being Wetherspoons, they are knocking them out cheaper than their rivals. The Waterhouse has priced them at £3.35 a bottle, which I make to be an average saving of 19%.
This is isn’t going to see craft geeks desert their usual watering holes and decamp en masse to Wetherspoons, but it’s a welcome development, nonetheless. Hopefully, it won't be too long before every Spoons has a decent bottled range.