When I moved to the suburbs of Manchester in the early summer, Mary and Archie on Burton Road quickly became my local. This cosy bar always has three good cask beers on, a decent selection of keg, ace food, and they cater for the Mr’s penchant for bottles of Timmermans Framboise. All this, and they’re situated just ten minutes from my front door. When I saw a tweet announcing that they were holding an American Craft* Beer Evening, complete with sliders, fries, and a talk from a beery person, I reserved some tickets pretty bloody quickly!
*Now, whatever you might think about the word ‘Craft’, or, er, the necessity of defining it, (personally, I largely agree with this post by The Beer Thinker) I’m still happy to use it in casual parlance as shorthand for ‘beer made by people who care about making good beer’.
Please excuse the background these tickets are on, it’s just what was on my desk at the time ;)
I roped in the Mr to be my partner in crime for the evening. He isn’t the most enthusiastic of beer drinkers, but he’s always willing to try something new, even if it does make him splutter, pull faces, and mutter about ‘ethanol’ – as happened recently when he took a sip from my glass of Evil Twin Even More Jesus. Philistine! We arrived at the bar a little while before the tasting was due to start, and I enjoyed a leisurely half of Magic Rock Dark Arts (6%): an old favourite, which was served in a very cute half pint dimple jug. The Mr, of course, plumped for his usual Timmermans. People gradually filtered in, until the bar contained roughly thirty beer geeks – eight of us, female, which I suppose isn’t too bad a showing, but could be better – all buzzing with speculation. There had been a tweet detailing which breweries we’d be hearing about, but the mystery of which beers we’d be tasting from them was quickly solved when, to a flurry of interest, the bar staff lined up six bottles at the front of the bar… Out of the six, there were two beers which I hadn’t tried, including one from a brewery I’d never had anything from before; not bad at all, considering that I work in a bar that stocks a decent amount of American beer!
Leading the talk was Ben Hodgkinson of James Clay – a chap who really knows his stuff. Ben spoke to us about the rise of interesting beer, American brewing history, beer styles, and other bits and bobs, and also spent lots of time answering individual questions and chatting with the attendees. His talk was a nice balance between being fun and accessible for those casual beer drinkers such as the Mr, while still being genuinely interesting and informative for us hardened beer nerds. As someone who’s led a number of tastings herself, both for work and for various university societies, I know how it can sometimes be difficult to strike that balance, but Ben is clearly a pro. Cheers!
Photo courtesy of @maryandarchie. You can’t see me in this ;)
But now to the most important bit: the beers. We started with Anchor California Lager (4.9%), a new re-creation of California’s first real lager, brewed by Boca brewery in 1876. Now, I’m not generally a fan of pale lagers (I like the occasional dark), and I’m afraid the California didn’t really do it for me; it’s just not a flavour I particularly enjoy. However, the Mr liked it. He is primarily a lager drinker (although I’ve got him pretty firmly into raspberry sours; Rose de Gambrinus, anyone?), and, while we were tasting this beer, he unwittingly gave me an insight into the casual lager drinker’s mentality. “I much prefer it to your stuff”, he began, taking a swig of the California, “It’s refreshing, and only mildly alcoholic, it’s a smooth taste, whereas your palate seems geared towards Richter scale mentalness, up and down, spice and hops and sour.” (By this point, I was tapping away at Evernote, taking down his little speech for posterity) “Your stuff is a challenge. I’d have to put effort in, and I can’t be arsed. It’s not art cinema, I don’t care.” …there speaks a true lager boy (for those who are baffled by the art cinema comment, he’s a film nerd, so at least he’s discerning about something).
Some of the beers we tasted.
Second up was Goose Island Matilda (7%). I’ve never been massively impressed by their IPA or Honkers, and I know that a lot of people are wary of Goose Island now due to who owns them – but what I learned on this evening is that the merger means that the brewers get to concentrate on brewing their excellent speciality beers, like Bourbon County… and Matilda. Oh, Matilda. I poured the beer not expecting much, but as soon as I raised the glass to my nose, then took a sip, I was pretty bloody impressed. I love a bit of Brett, and this tribute to Orval did not disappoint in the slightest. Dry, spicy, funky goodness, although the Love Hearts-esque candy sugar in Orval comes through more as crystallised tropical fruits here: not a bad thing! Named for the Countess of Orval legend, Matilda is obviously a work of love.
After the second beer, the bar staff brought round sliders and fries for everyone, in keeping with the American theme. The sliders consisted of a beef burger, a rather good veggie burger, and some gloriously smoky pulled pork; all bitesize, of course. If my memory serves me correctly, Mary and Archie have a pulled pork sandwich on their menu(?); if the slider was anything to go by, it’ll be bloody lovely! The third beer came round shortly afterwards: Founders All Day IPA (4.7%). I do quite like Founders, their Centennial IPA (7.2%) is decent, and I’ve been told by people who are into their Scotch Ales that the Dirty Bastard is a good ‘un. Well, the All Day IPA session ale certainly achieves what it sets out to do. In the height of the summer, I can imagine relaxing in a beer garden with a pint of this grapefruity, piney, easy drinking beer. It’s not challenging, it doesn’t linger, it’s refreshing, and while it’s not one I’d choose to drink most of the time, if I walked into a pub on a hot sunny day and saw them stocking this, I’d probably throw a couple back; the Mr certainly would. He was quite taken with its easy going nature, and opined that he might choose this over a lager.
Our fourth beer was the Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale (5.1%). I was quite excited about this, as I had never come across Sly Fox before, though I’d heard of them as ‘Aluminium can pioneers and advocates‘! That link will take you to their website, where they detail the reasons why cans are better than bottles. Ben also told us about their ‘360 cans’, where the whole top of the can peels off, allowing the can to act as a glass. Madness! I can’t wait to try one of those. Anyway, the beer itself was a solid pale ale. Fruity, a fair whack of pine, a nice little bitter edge, some malty sweetness… It reminded me of Sierra Nevada Torpedo (7.2%), but slightly scaled down. Nothing revolutionary, but I’d definitely drink it again. Quelle surprise, it was the Mr’s least favourite of the night. He can’t hack the hops!
Loving the artwork. Not loving whatever my hair is doing in this photo.
Next up was Brooklyn East India Pale Ale (6.9%). I’ve never been majorly enamoured of this beer, but then, I’m the type of girl who likes her IPAs to hit you round the head with bitterness and then give you a Chinese burn with tropical fruit. Big bully IPAs that are violent, new wave, and preferably at least Double – so the fact that I’m not hugely keen on the EIPA is down to my palate, not the beer. It’s very biscuity, earthy, and trad. Not a bad thing, just not to my taste. The Mr liked it far more than I did… I think we’re beginning to see a pattern here, chaps!
The sixth and last beer was Flying Dog Raging Bitch (8.3%), a Belgian IPA. The last two times I’ve had it (once in bottle, once on keg) I found it kind of nothing-y, but this bottle had a lot of punch… it had this awesome almost funky, slightly sour vibe going on..? I don’t know if I’ve just had rubbish batches in the past, but this time I really enjoyed the floral, fruity goodness. I hope it stays like this! Gonzo will always hold the Flying Dog crown for me, though.
After the tasting finished, most people stuck around for another beer, including Ben, who chatted away with people over a Schneider Weisse. After trying all of those beers, I felt the need to round off the night with something easy and familiar, and plumped for a half of Punk IPA. From the looks of things, everyone had a great time, tried a few new things, and went away far more informed about American craft beer. Mary and Archie, mission accomplished! Thanks to you guys and Ben for putting the evening together, and I hope you’ll do another tasting soon. Wintery dark beers? A sours evening? Whatever it’ll be, I’m there!