Monthly Archives: January 2014

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival

The day dawned bright and fair – well, it wasn’t raining, so it pretty much counted as a balmy summer’s day in Manchester – but the weather was of little concern to the cyclists, whizzing round like mad things inside the Velodrome. Now, I don’t know about the mentality of these super fit athletes, but when I’ve been exercising (the readers roar with laughter at the thought of me actually doing any exercise), my thoughts turn towards a nice, refreshing pale ale. If these poor cyclists are already fighting the urge for a pint after their training, it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder for them this week, as they are cycling round and round a beer festival. Which sadistic bastards thought that one up, eh?

Cyclists at the Velodrome

Some rather efficient and dedicated sadistic bastards, that’s who. The National Winter Ales Festival has moved from the Sheridan Suite to, um, Derby, leaving a gap in our beery calendar. But no worries, cask-lovers of Manchester, our local CAMRA folk had already got it sorted, with a new festival featuring over 300 cask beers and 75 ciders and perries. When this came to my attention last year, I popped it in my diary straight away. I don’t generally get to drink as much cask beer as I’d like, so a CAMRA festival is always a pleasant change.

On Wednesday afternoon, I met my partner in crime for the day, BrewDog Mancs’ Becky, and we got the tram out to the Velodrome. This venue had already won points over the Sheridan Suite in my book – it had its own dedicated tram stop, which made everything so much easier than the long trek up Oldham Road/the wait for the inevitably packed out bus/shelling out for the cab ride of doom on the way home. Glasses were either pints with the MBCF design on, or half tankards with the National Winter Ales logo (why?). I generally prefer a tankard to a pint glass, especially in a beer festival environment, but, nerdy collector that I am, I do like to get this year’s glass – so the pint it was. Following the well signposted route, we made the trek through the tunnel to the beer floor. Down, down, into the mines of Moria, and up again into a veritable Lothlorien of beer. Don’t worry, that’s the last Tolkien reference you’ll read in this post, I promise* (*I promise nothing).

Wary of being flustered by the choice, I’d browsed the beer list online beforehand, and made a little list of what sounded appealing, bar by bar. Aren’t I organised? We started at the responsible end of the scale, with a third of Beartown Peach Melbear (4.4%), which was very perfumed, but pleasant. It was Becky’s first beer festival, and, being her aged and esteemed guide, I had sent her a text reminding her to get cash out beforehand – a trek to the cash machine at the nearby Asda was not something that particularly appealed – but in my preoccupation with beer money, I had forgotten one of the most important factors in beer fest preparedness: layers, layers, layers. Most beer festivals seem to have their own tropical microclimates once you’re in there, and the Velodrome was no exception. It was sweltering at the bars, and we found ourselves retreating regularly into the middle of the beer floor, where the temperature dropped to something resembling comfortable. The seating areas around the outside of the track were, of course, far cooler, but we couldn’t particularly be arsed wombling through the tunnels to get over there, especially while we were ploughing through low ABV thirds and frequently needed a top up. The next beer was Brightside Our Town (4%), a pale ale. I think I slightly prefer their Odin (3.8%), also pale, which I tried on cask the other day in Mary and Archie, but everything I’ve tried from them so far has been pretty good. They also have excellent branding – clean, modern and eye-catching, whilst somehow still seeming ‘classic’ in a way that I can’t quite define.

Hand pump with Ilkley Forbidden Fruit pump clip, and half-full pint glass

Wandering over to the Ilkley bar, a quick chat with one of the chaps there led to my first half of the day, Ilkley Forbidden Fruit (5%), a grapefruit pale ale using a new hop which is currently exclusive to Ilkley (#1391, for those who are interested). Forbidden Fruit was brewed with Melissa Cole, who has worked with the brewery before to create such beers as Siberia, a rhubarb saison, and Green Goddess, a green hop IPA. The first word that sprung to mind when I tasted this beer was ‘refreshing’. What with all of the big, sour beers that are so prominent at the moment, we were surprised at how restrained the grapefruit aspect was. But you know what? In that moment, parched by the heat of the Velodrome,  Forbidden Fruit was the absolute perfect beer to throw back. I really don’t understand why people drink crap lager ‘because it’s refreshing and easy to drink’ when you could drink something like this, which fulfils those criteria but tastes nice as well..! We all know I love my sour beers, but sometimes you just need a good pale ale.

Next up was Waen Chilli Plum Porter (6.1%), which didn’t do it for me, as the chilli was pretty rough. I’m a bit of a chilli fiend – the Mr always rolls his eyes at me for adding hot sauce/jalapenos to my meals – but this particular chilli beer unfortunately didn’t quite work. Luckily, the rest of the afternoon featured, among others, such excellent beers as Marble Earl Grey IPA (6%) and Weird Beard Fade to Black (7.3%), both of which I’d somehow never tried before but had come highly recommended, and the glorious Hawkshead NZPA (6%). An old favourite, I love this beer in cask, and I must admit, once I got on it I was loathe to drink anything else! A number of these were sipped while hanging out with various beery human beings, honourable mentions going to the chaps from the other side of the hills (including Sam, Scott, David of Bier Huis, etc), the inimitable Max from Dulcimer (that scamp!), and of course, Jim of BeersManchester, (who has already been back to the festival and written TWO POSTS about it in the time it’s taken me to get round to writing one! Pro!) and the excellent @CJJazwinski who recommended us Coniston No 9 Barley Wine, which I didn’t get round to trying because I got distracted by the Coniston Infinity IPA (6%), which, the general consensus was, tasted about 4%. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Now, I haven’t been to a CAMRA festival for a while, but I really enjoyed it. Fancy, trendy festivals are great, but sometimes you just want cask beer, a plate of pie and mushy peas, and a vendor selling pub memorabilia. Becky and I both come from a cask background, our careers starting off in little, community pubs serving real ale, so it was a nice, nostalgic diversion from our city centre trendy ‘craft keg’ bar jobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking cool beer in the city centre, but to me, there’s something a bit special about cask. The volunteers were absolutely lovely, as has generally been my experience, and almost everyone I dealt with was very personable, especially one of the chaps on Bar 1, who served us a few times but whose name I didn’t catch. The only slight issue I had with any of the volunteers was with a young woman who we found to be a little brash and unhelpful – but perhaps everyone else was being so nice that her way of interacting with people was a bit jarring. They were all working very hard, at any rate, and I hope they had fun doing it! I must volunteer at a beer festival some time soon; it’s on the to-do list. Sadly, there were the inevitable uncomfortable moments caused by random attendees. Nothing malicious, just cringy “we’ll have to put that tshirt on you, ooh, we’ll have to lube you up to do it” Kegbuster-esque bollocks, which were met with the standard look of disapproval and subsequent manoeuvres to avoid the offending party. To be fair, everyone around this particular offender looked embarrassed for him. There were a few little things along those lines, and, of course, that bloody awful t-shirt stand which shows up at every CAMRA festival. I like the Exorcist parody tshirt ‘the Excessist’. An ex bought that for me at a CAMRA festival when I was eighteen or nineteen, and I’ve only just thrown it away. What I’m not so keen on are the t-shirts ‘for women’. You know the ones – strappy/low-cut tops with terrible slogans written over the tit area. Other than the initial vague amusement at a bit of wordplay when they first hear the pun, I know very few women – or men – or anybody who doesn’t subscribe to a certain gender – who find them funny. Most, if not all, of the people I know would find them sad, and a bit offensive. We’re trying to move forward, kids, and get more people using our pubs – we don’t want to be alienating our audience, now, do we?

Patronising women's vest tops which say 'weapons of mass distraction' and 'area of outstanding natural beauty' across the chest.

I know that some people had complaints about the distance between the beer floor and the seating area/food/loos, and, later in the week, queues and closing times. I think it’s important to remember that it’s a new festival, in a new venue, and there were always going to be teething issues. Overall, I’d say it was a great success. I am aware that I was experiencing the festival as a 23 year old able-bodied person, with less creaky knees than some of the other attendees, so, Mines of Moria jokes aside, the walk to the loos and the lack of seating on the beer floor didn’t really bother me. They put out seating on the beer floor the next day, in response to criticism, and anyone who seriously complains about queues for the men’s loos at a beer festival… Well, they clearly haven’t attended too many. I didn’t get to go to the Friday or Saturday sessions, as I was working, but I hear that they had far more attendees than expected. When 2500 unanticipated people turn up to drink your beer, you can’t be blamed for running out earlier than you thought you would! And, well, as someone who was working in a beer bar Saturday night, we got a lot of custom from the overspill, so it’s good for the community, right? It’s wonderful that Manchester has so many people wanting to drink beer, and it bodes well for next year’s festival. I was very happy with the choice of venue – watching athletes cycle as you drink adds an extra surreal magic to the proceedings – and I hope everyone involved has enjoyed a few well deserved pints. Cheers, kids, and see you next year!

Me in front of a Manchester Pale Ale sign


My Favourite Beers: Thornbridge Halcyon

As you will have deduced from the title of this post, this evening I am drinking one of my favourite beers: Thornbridge Halcyon (7.4%). I believe I first tried it at a beer festival – at a rough guess, GBBF trade day 2010. Relatively early on in my beer-drinking life, at any rate. I had already fallen in love with Thornbridge Jaipur (5.9%) – these days, a sad shadow of its former self – but as one of the first +7% beers I’d tried, Halcyon was among my first real examples of the type of big IPA I’m always on the look out for, and every time I’ve come back to it over the years, it’s been just as gorgeous.

It pours a vibrant hazy pale gold that glows in the light, with a head of big white bubbles. Fresh, tropical flavours, and lemon peel abound on the nose. The tropical fruit and juicy citrus continue to the taste, with dry hop bitterness cutting through the sweetness, all supported by a light biscuit malt base. Unusually refreshing for the strength, and dangerously quaffable.
Bottle of Thornbridge Halcyon
I’m guilty of ignoring this beer most of the time, but if I’m ever craving a sure thing on the big IPA front, I’ll pick up a bottle from Carringtons. Every time, I’m taken aback by how good it still is. I’m sure we all tend to look back fondly on beers we remember from way back when, in younger, – if you’ll forgive me – halcyon days, recalling them as being better than they were. Funny, then, that Halcyon is in fact one of the most consistent beers I’ve ever had. Every time I come back to it, my fondness for it is renewed; sadly, something I cannot say for many of the beers I tried years ago which, when tasted even a year on, just weren’t as good. Brewers change, recipes change, the quality of ingredients change, and, of course, my tastes have changed – but Halcyon is still the same as ever: a bloody lovely beer. I hope I still feel the same about it in another four years.

Hoppy Beer and Pongy Cheese

When I spotted a wedge of Brie de Meaux at its sell by date reduced in my little local Tesco, my thoughts flew back to the ridiculously good slab of it I tried in Friends of Ham last year. All considerations of a January diet went out of the window, and it was paid for and bagged up within a matter of moments. Unfortunately I couldn’t go home and demolish it straight away – I had a lunch date to get to. By the time I’d been to Media City, done lunch, and got back home, I’d had to tie the handles of the plastic bag together, to stop the delicious but pongy smell from pervading the (thankfully, almost empty) tram. Later that afternoon, when it was oozing gently, I plonked it on a plate with a crusty white roll, cracked open a beer, and settled down with a book.

The book was soon ignored, because, at the risk of sounding like a food pervert, OH MY GOD. This was a properly smelly cheese, creamy, and far more strongly flavoured than other bries I’ve tasted. What better to pair it with than First Chop Brewing Arm Ava (3.5%)? Very ripe brie could overwhelm many 3.5% pale ales, but Ava is unusually bitter and cuts through the fatty, creaminess delightfully, while the fruity hops mingle with the saltiness to create a wonderfully intense flavour.
I must admit, Ava was a bit of a gamble, but it stood up to the challenge marvellously in this full-on pairing.

Tesco ‘Simply’ Beers

I’m lucky to live in a place where I can get my hands on good beer just by walking five minutes down the road and into Reserve Wines, who stock some lovely local stuff, or walking ten minutes and enjoying a pint in Mary and Archie. But it was not always this way! For a while early last year, I lived in the countryside. The house was surrounded by fields and motorways; very unnerving for a person who grew up a 25 minute train ride from central London. This countryside location was a veritable beer wasteland, with the only pubs within walking distance not keeping their cask very well at all. I wasn’t in a position to be ordering beer online, or to be stocking up adequately on my infrequent trips into Manchester. So, though I was loathe to do it, when I needed a hop hit, I bought beer from supermarkets. I never dared venture into their own range, expecting it to be crap – after Tesco ‘Finest’ American Double IPA (9.2%) was discontinued, of course, the days of picking up Hardcore at 2 quid a bottle were glorious indeed! – and so I ended up drinking a lot of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%), which is always a solid go-to, and, um, gin.


These days I am able to support pubs and independent retailers when I buy beer, but on our weekly food shops at Tesco, I have become increasingly curious about their ‘Simply’ range, brewed for Tesco by Marston’s. I already know I like their alcoholic ginger beer (I mean, it’s no Hollows and Fentimans, but it’s better than that awful Crabbies), and finally, in the spirit of enquiry, I decided to give their ales a go. On a gloomy Sunday afternoon, I settled down on the sofa with the Mr and cracked open the first bottle: Tesco ‘Simply’ Golden Ale (4.5%).”First of all,” I said to the Mr, handing him the bottle, “Before you taste the beer, what’s wrong with this?”
Slightly perplexed, he narrowed his eyes at the label, and ventured, “The phrase ‘Golden Ale’ evokes urine?”
*Chortle, splutter*
“Not quite… A clear bottle means that there’s a good chance that, by the time your beer gets to you, it’s going to be fucked. Hops are delicate buggers and light makes them go wrong and get all skunky.”
(I seem to have turned into my father, who, for years, has been putting me on the spot by asking “what’s wrong” with this beer, pub, festival, etc, in a bid to make me think critically about trade stuff. Drinking with the Molyneuxs is GREAT FUN and HIGHLY EDUCATIONAL.)

Silly Mr Tesco, don’t you know that by selling beer in clear bottles you’re telling the drinker that you don’t care about the quality of the product? And surprise surprise, what do we get on the nose of this beer but a slight herbal quality, a faint spice, and, mild skunking. To be fair, there aren’t enough hops in here for it to get properly nasty, but it’s there, no doubt. All of those hours sitting under supermarket florescent lights were not kind to this beer; not to be too harsh, but the recipe was not kind to this beer, either. It pours straw-coloured and clear as a bell, feeling thin and rather fizzy in my mouth. There’s a little grassy flavour, slight bitterness, and very little else. Given it to try blind, I might almost think it was a mainstream lager! I will say this for it, though: it cuts through a stodgy Gregg’s sausage and bean bake just fine. The Mr, of course, would drink it, stating that “For a cheap beer than tastes like a lager, it isn’t bad, but  if I had a lot of it I’d get bored”.

Moving swiftly on, we then tried the Tesco ‘Simply’ IPA (5%). The bottle describes it as a ‘classic’ IPA; there’s no way this beer would survive a long sea voyage. Another clear bottle, another slightly skunky beer, but I also get malt sweetness on the nose, and even a little cantaloupe melon hiding behind the hint of citrus. It’s still over-carbonated, and I taste some soft toffee and caramel, a little earthiness, a bit of citrus, but it’s all just overwhelmed by herbal bitterness. This dry bitterness is pervasive, it’s persistent, but bitterness alone does not a good IPA make. Now, I generally like super-crazy bitter beers, even if they aren’t perfectly balanced and overwhelm their backbone a bit, but this beer just had no substance to it. The Mr opined “It’s just bitter and not very nice – it’s not as bitter as some of the beers I’ve tried, but in this beer there’s nothing to justify it being this bitter”. All that, unprompted!

Now we come to the Tesco ‘Simply’ Dark Ale (4.5%). This is the most visually appealing of the bunch so far, pouring maroon/deep chestnut with a big white head, showing ruby tints when held up to the light. It smelled like rum and raisin – so far, so good. The initial aroma carries through to the flavour, bringing in some stewed plums to replace the rum in accompanying the raisins. Along with this, we get malt sweetness, and a weak coffee aftertaste. What was over-carbonation in the last two bottles actually serves to lift the heavy sweetness in this a little. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately I couldn’t get behind the raisin-y taste in this and, in a move that shocked even myself, I poured it away. I just couldn’t hack it. The Mr was already out of the running on this one, pleading the “Bleugh, coffee” card. He’s not huge on his dark malts. If there was a little more body, a little more coffee bitterness, a little more of ANYTHING else, I could have coped with it, but it was just far too cloying for me.

Raisins killed the dinosaurs. (It looked lighter than this).

Last, we tried the Tesco ‘Simply’ Stout (4.5%). Pouring dark brown with a big, tan head, with herby hops and milky coffee on the nose, followed by more dark fruits as it warmed up, this was my favourite of the range. Slightly fruity with some bitterness, followed by dark, roasty malts. Standard. Once again, what was too much carbonation in the lighter beers worked to lift the heaviness of the malts. Tolerable, but I’m still not hugely keen. When you compare this to stouts of similar strength such as the lovely Hop Back Entire Stout (4.5%), this is just so nothing-y. The coffee-hating Mr surprised me by not minding this beer, telling me that “It’s kind of like a watery version of what would be nice… But it’s do-able”.

These are the sort of traditional, uninteresting beers which I had tried, and been unimpressed by, prior to 2009, Dark Star Hophead (3.8%), and my ‘wow’ moment when I realised that beer could be glorious. They just aren’t particularly exciting, or well made. I know that I’m used to mad, strong beers, but some of my favourites are below 4% (Marble Pint (3.8%), Dark Star Hophead Galaxy (3.8%), Redemption Trinity (3%)). This year I’d like to see if I can find any low-ABV pale beers/trad bitters made with English hops that I actually like… Mission impossible? Any recommendations?

Big Bad Bullies

With Crabbies vs Tickety Brew, Red Bull vs Redwell, and now Camden Town vs Weird Beard, the name (hah) of the game seems to be the big guy kicking the little guy, just because they can. Let’s be honest here – nobody is going to mistake one of these things for the other, just because some of the syllables sound similar, or because the name of the beer includes a place name. But some kids think it’s alright for them to bully people for no good reason, and it seems terribly convenient that they only seem to have a go at people who don’t have the money to fight back.

How can you copyright a place name in relation to a beer? It’s petty, and completely unnecessary, but that’s what Camden Town have tried to do, telling Weird Beard that they have to change the name of one of their beers. The beer in question was brewed with help from the staff from BrewDog bar Camden, as part of the Collab fest. Camden BearD (5.5%) is a reasonable name. Nobody’s going to think Camden Town brewed it – Weird Beard‘s branding is unmistakable. But now it’s got to be called K*ntish Town Beard, because apparently if you have enough money and have been fairly successful for a while, it’s fine to lay claim to a place name. A bloody place name! I have also heard on the Twittersphere that they have harrassed Brodie’s over their Camden Town Brown IPA (6%). Time will tell if they approach BrewDog over BD Camden 01 (7.5%), which was brewed with help from the Camden bar staff. In this situation, the reason that ‘Camden’ is in the name is exactly the same as Camden BearD. However, BrewDog have money, so Camden Town probably won’t try it with them.

According to this, you now apparently can’t use the name ‘Camden’ for Ale; real ale; beer; lager; stout; porter; cider (non-alcoholic); ginger beer; malt beer; beer wort; extracts of hops for making beer. Cider; spirits; liqueurs; distilled beverages; gin; whisky; rum; vodka; brandy; pre-mixed alcoholic beverages, other than beer-based. Brewing services; brewing of beer; spirits distillery services; information, consultancy and advisory services relating to the aforesaid.”

What Camden Town are doing is ridiculous and childish, and completely contrary to the open, friendly, collaborative vibe which the craft beer industry generally exudes. All it has achieved is to alienate a large number of people who previously drank their beer, and inconvenience Weird Beard, who are a great brewery and have made some bloody excellent beers this year. The overarching sentiment echoing around Twitter today is “what idiots, I won’t drink Camden Town beer any more”. They’ve shot themselves in the foot by being petty. Nobody likes a bully.

Edit: You can find Weird Beard‘s post on the subject here, where they tell us all the gory details.

Bye, 2013!

At midnight, in a Manchester suburb, I took a sip from my glass of prosecco, gave the Mr a kiss, and then returned to drinking Hardcore IPA (9.2%) while making sarcastic comments about how very lucky all of the people crowded along the banks of the Thames were, how much fun they seemed to be having, and how talented that Gary Barlow is. It was one of my most civilised, restrained New Year’s Eves to date – long gone are the days of house parties where everyone ends up necking vodka while covered in glitter and strawberry lube – but one which nicely rounded off the year: enjoying great beer with close friends, and succumbing to a growing urge to play terrible board games. Have you ever played ‘Mr and Mrs’? You try to predict your partner’s answers to such soul-searching, revealing questions as “Which footballer does your partner find most attractive: David Beckham, David Seaman, Emile Heskey, or Michael Owen?”, and “Which vegetable does your partner like least: Swede, sprouts, cabbage, or parsnip?” Playing that game is possibly the most unnervingly middle-aged thing I’ve ever done, but you know what? I enjoyed it, with only a slight edge of sneering irony. I think this means I am A) old, B) a loser, or C) both. I will say this: Cocoa Psycho (10%) is a charming companion for nerdy nights in, and made being forced to play a Mario game on Wii slightly more bearable. Slightly.

This morning barely brought a hangover, the gin and lemonades swilled down towards the end of the night no doubt soaked up by the cheesy chips I stuffed in my fat face on our five AM walk home. 2013 had been a year of many terrible hangovers, and it was pleasant to start 2014 with nothing more than a slight headache! 2013: The year of the hangover, and also, the year of change. I started the year living half at home and half in a laddish flat in Brixton while working at a lovely beer shop in Dorking. Not a bad set up, and the job was perfection, but I found myself longing to be back in the North, back in the beer scene I’d grown to love during my time at university. Before long, the wheels were in motion, and, after a short time living with the Mr’s folks, we found ourselves moving into a flat in the ‘burbs, and I started pouring pints at BrewDog Mancs. The last six or seven months have absolutely flown by, and I can honestly say that right now, I’m the happiest I have ever been. It’s taken a lot of work to figure out what I want, but now, everything’s falling into place, and I’m hugely excited about all of the opportunities and schemes I’ve got in the works this coming year.

And with that disgustingly optimistic statement, I’ll put 2013 to bed by listing, in no particular order, a few of the beers which mattered to me last year… No surprise considering my place of work, a number of these are BrewDog!

The Harveys Sussex Best (4%) which we drank from dimple jugs at my friend’s beautiful, whimsical wedding in the summer.

The BrewDog Hello, My Name is Ingrid (8.2%) that convinced a number of my non-beer drinking female friends that beer could be an excellent thing.

The first third of a hungover lunchtime at a beer festival in Lewes, when Wild Beer Co, Good George, and Burning Sky Shnoodlepip (6%) cleared away the cobwebs and blew my tiny mind.

The many bottles of BrewDog Cocoa Psycho (10%) which have been my ever-faithful writing companions. I’ve always found that strong, dark beers have been an excellent aid to getting words on paper, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (6%) having got me through a number of university essays!

The freshly filtered Jackhammer (7.2%) at the brewery in Ellon. Oh god, too good.

The bomber of Hardcore IPA (9.2%) we shared after moving into our flat this summer.

Siren/Cigar City/Grassroots Neither (8.3%), with family and friends at the Hope, and then with work babes at IndyMan Beer Con.

The many drinks which I have had after long shifts, special mention to Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus (5%), which is always a winner, and many, many schooners of Jackhammer (7.2%).

The insanely tart and refreshing pints of Cromarty KiWheat (5%).

The Evil Twin Femme Fatale Blanc (6%) which was my first taste of a Bretty IPA. Oh, my…

The victorious half of Hardcore (9.2%) in BrewDog Camden, after the end of the first event I’ve ever organised outside of university! Also a similarly celebratory half of the same when I passed my Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam.

The BrewDog Tea For Punks/Six Impossible Things (6%) at Leeds International Beer Festival, sipped while chatting to one of the guys who brewed it.

The first half of something pale, hoppy and refreshing at my London local every time I got off the train after the six hour journey home from the North.

The Burning Sky Saison a la Provision (6.5%) which confirmed that my excitement about this new brewery was justified.

The Beavertown Dark Matter (3.8%) which got me obsessing over sour stouts. More of these this year, please!

It seems that my go-to beer this year has been Hardcore; I’ve enjoyed rather a lot of it, as you can see from my sickeningly couple-y New Year’s Eve photo! Anyway kids, raising a glass to you, I hope you all have a glorious 2014. Be good, spend time with good people, and drink good beer. I’m going to.