Events

GBBF 2015 In Tweeted Pictures

I’ve already written about the Champion Bottled Beer of Britain judging and GBBF for work, so here I’ll let the pictures I tweeted on the day do (most of) the talking…

CMHVtkIXAAAS8t4Such a #craftwanker that even my water tastes of citrus

CMHwKMuWsAAMSSYFirst beer of the day on a rooftop overlooking Olympia with Truman’s

CMMpS30W8AAnURPLovely horses, lovely Harveys

CMIHxp1WcAALjFPFirst of GBBF – Lagunitas Sucks with Ancho and Pulla chillies

CMIjZ8LWoAAQrRiBeery selfies happened

CMIiEAVWUAAAfnx#craftwankers 4 lyf

CMI3bPhWEAM4gecEven more beery selfies were taken

CMI_zkAXAAAHgnSOh shit there’s an impromptu tasting occurring

CMI4RssWEAA2T4C #MolyneuxsOnTour

After this there was Magic Rock at the Cock Tavern, then Thornbridge at the Craft, then donner kebabs. Fab day, lovely to catch up with everyone and I’ll hopefully see some of you at Leeds/IndyMan!

The Independent Salford Beer Festival

I was too excited not to say a few quick words today: I simply cannot wait to be at the Independent Salford Beer Festival (24th-25th October) this evening! For one night only I’ll be back behind the bar, serving the good people of Manchester great cask beer from either side of the Pennines, and it’s all to raise money for St Sebastian’s Community Centre. Jim (of BeersManchester fame) has put together a rather exciting beer list, including the one and only cask of Five-Oh Brew Co’s Sorachi Ace Stout (6.5%)!  Tonight and Saturday arvo are sold out(!), but there are still a few Saturday evening tickets left. See you there; it’ll be a blast. Don’t forget to say hi if you spot me on the bar!

indy salford beer fest

London Showcase at The Hope

The night before the Great British Beer Festival, The Hope in Carshalton held their London Showcase, as part of the London Beer City celebrations. Featuring a wide range of breweries from the London Brewers’ Alliance, the idea was to throw the spotlight on some of the excellent beers that one wouldn’t be able to find at GBBF; beers such as Clarence and Fredericks Cascadian Blackberry, Redemption Little Chief, London Fields Grapefruit Dead, Kernel Simcoe Citra 366, Beavertown Gamma Ray, and Five Points IPA.

Having spent five hours that day travelling on the coach down to London from Manchester, I was desperate for something pale, citrussy, and refreshing, so plumped for Redemption Tropical Trinity: a fruity version of their 3% pale, dry hopped and brewed with mango and pineapple especially for the festival, followed by Brodie’s Kiwi, full of NZ hops. Moving on to something slightly stronger, I decided to give Pressure Drop’s Pale Fire another go. Between six months and a year ago (I believe), I tried a bottle of it in The Font, Fallowfield, and to be honest it tasted like not-terribly-accomplished homebrew. However, Pressure Drop have developed marvellously, and now make some rather good beer. Pale Fire is a full bodied, well balanced, and eminently quaffable pale ale, which I’ll be looking forward to drinking more of in future. My beer of the showcase, however, has to go to Brodie’s London Sour (Redcurrant). Mouthpuckeringly sour, clean, refreshing, and full of tart fruit flavour, I couldn’t get enough of it, and would have happily sipped my way through pints and pints of it over the evening if I hadn’t had a huge list of other beers to explore. I certainly came back to it when I returned to The Hope a couple of days later. Sitting in a suburban pub conservatory, sipping London Sour, watching the weather change and catching my breath in amongst the hustle and bustle of London Beer City; the perfect accompaniment to the eye of the storm.

IMG_20140813_1636191379306008

GBBF 2014

Ah, the Great British (Cask Conditioned) Beer Festival. Trade Day is always an excellent chance to catch up with far-flung friends, meet new folk, and do a bit of beer-celebrity spotting. This year was no exception; many names and faces were matched to profile photos and Twitter handles, and firm friendships forged in the seas of ale.

cantillon

Arriving bright and early, I bumped into Suzy the Pub Geek (@lincolnpubgeek) and, our Press Passes securely pinned dickheadishly to our tops, we did a circuit of the festival. Glancing at the beers listed above each of the bars, I made a few mental notes as to what I might try later, but nothing was grabbing me. Suzy nabbed a Fownes Frosthammer, brewed by a pal of hers, but I was still feeling uninspired. “Fuck it,” I sighed, “let’s gravitate to the American bar”.

A cheerful volunteer took one look at us and asked if we’d like to try something sour. Big smiles now: “YES PLEASE!” It transpired that he’d been half-joking, hating the style himself, but we were happy, and my stemmed third glass soon contained the first beer of the day: Single Hop Sour, from Fate Brewing Company in Arizona, a kettle-soured wheat beer with El Dorado hops. Light, tart, and lemony, it was a pleasant way to begin the session. I hear that Fate also brew a Cucumber Single Hop Sour, which I am rather desperate to get my hands on…

Sipping our beers, we soon spotted some of the regular crew, and joined them. This seating area by the American bar swiftly became known as ‘The Craft Wanker Table’/’Craft Wanker Corner’, a veritable who’s who of brewers, bloggers, pub/bar people, and various other beer nerds. When traversing the festival, acquaintances would spot each other, “Hello! How are you? See you at the craft wanker table? Yes? Good”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people I like and respect all together in one space, and the atmosphere of cheer and camaraderie was genuinely uplifting. The next beer I chose was R&D Dry-hopped Pale, by Ninkasi Brewing Company in Oregon. Clean, clear as a bell, with masses of grapefruit, the primary word I’d use to describe this beer is ‘fresh’.
me suzy selfie

Wandering away from the craft wanker table in a bid to find the delegation from The Hope, Carshalton, and Cobbett’s Real Ales in Dorking, I grabbed a glass of Hogsback and Andy Parker (@tabamatu)’s Collaboration: Cascade, Centennial, and robust malts. Eventually I found my crew ensconced on the practically deserted upper level – at this point, few people had braved the climb up the stairs. After a few disparaging remarks about the festival programme’s Tesco adverts in counterpoint to the prominent ‘Pubs Matter’ displays placed in the hall decrying the conversion of pubs to other uses such as, er, supermarkets, for example, the 110 (at least) new Tescos converted from pubs since January 2012, we felt the need for another drink, and made our way to the German and Belgian bars.

Unfortunately the keg set-up on the Belgian bar wasn’t working, and nobody we asked throughout the session seemed to know when they would be on. The German bar it was, then, and a Schneider-Weisse Tap 4 went down nicely. Passing the T-shirt stall which seems to do the round of CAMRA festivals, I noticed that nobody had bothered to ask the stall owner to remove the vest tops with “Designated area of outstanding natural beauty” and “Weapons of mass distraction” emblazoned over the tit area. Now, I know there’s no malicious intent here, but those items being on sale at a beer festival just doesn’t sit well with me. At a small branch festival, that sort of oversight is forgivable, but at the flagship national festival, you can’t be seen to be condoning the objectification of women. By allowing those t-shirt designs to be displayed, you’re sending a message to the women present that you don’t care if they are made uncomfortable, and you’re helping to reinforce the stereotype that CAMRA consists of sexist old men. It’s unfair to your members, and alienating to your potential members.

tacky

But this was a minor unpleasantness in an otherwise delightful day, and who knows, maybe nobody who can do anything about it has actually ever looked in detail at the t-shirt designs on offer. At any rate, it was almost time for the announcement of the Champion Beer of Britain, so I decided to do what I do best, and live tweet the whole thing. The announcement was considerably delayed, and at one point the assembled crowd started booing, to mine and Suzy’s bafflement. Was this a jokey ritual? Perhaps the booing was ironic?

Eventually the announcements were made. Gold in the Mild category went to Bank Top Dark Mild – not one I’ve tried, but it’s from Bolton, so I’m sure I’ll see it around up here soon. Gold in the Bitter category went to Timothy Taylors Boltmaker. I’ve found Timothy Taylors beers in general to be pretty dull, with Landlord being the best of the bunch, and I tried Boltmaker back when it was called Best Bitter: fine, but bit bland. Gold in the Best Bitter category went to Salopian Darwin’s Origin. I like Salopian, and think they make solid beers. I’ll be trying this if I see it. Gold in the Golden Ales category went to Oakham Citra, a good go-to beer, and well deserved. Gold in the Strong Bitter category went to Church End Fallen Angel; another brewery I’m not familiar with. Gold in the Speciality category went to Saltaire Triple Chocaholic, which I haven’t had for a couple of years but remember as being tasty enough. Another Chocolate beer won Gold in the Real Ale in a Bottle category, with Marble Chocolate – a big seller at The Epicurean up here in Didsbury.

The overall Champion Beer of Britain Bronze went to Salopian Darwin’s Origin, Silver to Oakham Citra, and Gold to Timothy Taylors Boltmaker. Once again, the general consensus amongst the assembled crowd seemed to be that Boltmaker was, in fact, rather dull. It reminded me of attending in 2011, when Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde was declared the Champion Beer of Britain. Considering that some of the best breweries in Britain didn’t even have a presence at GBBF, I shouldn’t be surprised by these outcomes. This isn’t to cast aspersions on the beer, the brewers, or the judges. Boltmaker isn’t bad, it just isn’t the best bitter in Britain, let alone the best beer. Getting Bruce Dickinson on stage to make the announcement was a nice touch, though; I haven’t tried Trooper yet, but you can’t beat a bit of Iron Maiden.

We legged it back to Craft Wanker Corner to break the news about Boltmaker, and to further explore the offerings from the American bar. After this point in the afternoon, my Untappd check-ins become less consistent; there were too many people to talk to, too much beer to enjoy. Franklin’s Brewery Psychedelic Smokehouse, from Maryland, was something rather special, being a smoked sour brewed with Copper Fox Mesquite-smoked malt. Smoked cheese wafts up from the glass, an insistent presence, while still being light and tart on the palate. Of all the beers I drank at GBBF, this is the one I’ve been craving in the days after… If anyone knows how I might get my grubby mitts on some more, please do drop me a line!

Other honourable mentions go to Dark Star NHA, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Lagunitas Maximus, and De Molen Hemel & Aarde Octomore. As ever, though, the real joy of the day came from the people. It’s always wonderful to catch up with friends old and new, and I look forward to seeing everyone at IndyMan. It’s going to be a blast.

craft wankers

Un-Human Cannonball Launch; Port Street Beer House

On the morning of Thursday 10th April 2014, one topic dominated my Twitter feed: The launch of Magic Rock‘s Un-Human Cannonball 2014, the second year of their annually brewed triple IPA. Magic Rock‘s online shop released their stash of bottles at 7AM. If reports are to be believed, it sold out in 18 minutes, with other online beer shops lucky enough to get the paws on some quickly following suit. Across the country, beer lovers sat at their computers, debit cards clutched tightly, some of them sipping coffee as they got ready to leave for work, some still pajama-clad, wiping sleep from their eyes. Twitter resounded with variations on “YES! Got a bottle!”, shortly turning to cries of lament and unprintable curses as latecomers missed out.
 
There was also a certain word bandied around a bit. All together now, kids: “Hype!” Absolutely, there definitely was a frisson of excitement running through the Twittersphere, and do you know what? I loved it. We’re all part of this community because we’re seriously into beer, and it’s wonderful to see people getting psyched up about something they care about. I enjoy looking forward to trying a beer for the first time, especially one which has been well-received or has a particularly good pedigree; when I found out I was finally going to get to try Siren Limoncello, a beer I hadn’t previously been able to get my hands on, I couldn’t wait! To see people caught up in happy anticipation was just lovely, especially when that anticipation included the prospect of an evening in the pub, or a Twitter tasting, with people who were excited about the same thing.
 
These 7 AM bottle purchasing shenanigans were a bit early in the day for me, but I didn’t have to worry about missing out, as I live in one of the two cities where an official launch was going down later that afternoon/evening. The lucky sods who congregated at the Craft Beer Co, Islington, were able to get stuck into their beer at 4pm, but those of us in Manchester anxiously waited in the Port Street Beer House until 7pm and the Northern launch. This was the first time I had ever regretted moving away from London! Not to worry, Port Street had some wonderful beers lined up – as always – which kept us more than happy until that long-awaited hour. Special mention must go to The Celt Experience Nano (4.3%), a delightfully quaffable Berliner Weisse which I necked a pint of upon arrival, and Kernel Amarillo Pale Ale (5.3%). The Amarillo proved a firm favourite with our merry band of beer geeks, which included Steph, aka Mean Miss Mustard: veggie food blogger extraordinaire and Duty Manager at BrewDog Mancs, who has kindly offered to share a few thoughts about, and photos of, the launch with you lucky buggers.
 
Chatting with friends, the minutes whizzed by, and before we knew it, a sizeable crowd had congregated in the bar while the Magic Rock boys gave us a little intro to the beer, and told us what they’d done differently this year. It’s a little lighter in colour and ABV (11% rather than 12%), they’ve used half Pilsner malts, and dry hopped it seven times over the course of two weeks. Despite the masses of dry hopping, this year’s batch is clear, rather than crazy hazy. Soon the bar staff were dispensing thirds and halves to eagerly waiting hands, and, at only £5.50 a half or somewhere in the region of £3.60 for a third, my faint misgivings about being away from London were firmly quashed!
 
glasses of unhuman cannonball on table at port street beer house
Photo courtesy of Mean Miss Mustard
 
And as for how the beer actually went down? For that, I’ll turn you over to Steph:
 
“For an 11% IIIPA this is incredibly drinkable, maybe too much so for my self. For 11% and the hype of a triple IPA I want to be hit in the face with hop bitterness then slowly burned with a sweet alcohol aftertaste. However, Magic Rock are describing it as having gravity defying drinkability, so clearly we were after two different trips on this one.
 
Flavour wise it had a lovely tropical almost citrusy flavour too it and subtle hint of pine. I detected very little sweetness in comparison to most other imperial IPAs, but I’m pretty sure this was what Magic Rock were intending. As tasty as it is I think the marketing of it may be a little adjective heavy, I didn’t detect massive aromas or deep tropical fruit flavour.
 
All in all I was pretty pleased with the offering, it has the tropical hop fruitiness that I love and has avoided being cloying sweet. I’d happily drink more regularly if it was a regular brew so didn’t have the price tag of an annual product. I’m happy to pay around £5.50 for a half pint but for that I want to be wooed, wowed and left slightly taste bud wounded.”

Damn right. I found it dangerously quaffable, though like Steph I prefer my big IPAs to be slightly more bitter. We’re jaded IBU fiends, though. My decidedly non-beer geek partner also liked it, describing the taste as ‘undiluted orange squash’..! I’d like to try this in a bottle, but I think most of them have been snapped up by now. Never mind – there’ll be some more next year! All in all, a very tasty beer, and a great sense of camaraderie surrounding it.

You can
check out more photos from the night over at Steph’s blog. Of course, while we were savouring our first sips of this year’s Un-Human Cannonball, those London types had already been drinking it for three hours. Steve from The Beer O’ Clock Show tells all here…

Thanks to Steph for her contribution to this post and her fancy camera work! Head on over to Mean Miss Mustard for recipes (Gin and Tonic cake, anyone? It’s bloody good!), reviews, and a fair bit of booze.
Massive thanks also go to Steve of The Beer O’ Clock Show, who came up with the idea for a blogger collaboration covering both the London and Manchester launches. It’s been a pleasure telling our slightly sozzled story alongside you. Cheers, and here’s to next year!

Craft Beer Rising

With our Duty Manager buggering off to Sheffield (sob!), another of our staff nipping over to Tokyo for a couple of months to help open the new bar over there, tonnes of tutored tastings, Meet the Brewer events, jaunts to Macclesfield, meetings galore and LOTS of rum, it’s been a hectic week at Molyneux North. Please excuse this shamefully late write up of an amazing weekend in London.

Friday morning saw me hauling myself out of bed and jumping on the train down to London. Bopping up Brick Lane, I joined an eclectic queue of middle aged chaps in suits, gorgeous angular young people in vintage cardigans, and old rockers in brewery t-shirts. It could only be the Craft Beer Rising trade session. First impressions were immediately favourable. The cloakroom was much appreciated, as I was visiting London for the whole weekend and was weighed down with bags, and a third-of-a-pint glass at events like this always wins me over. Peering through the crowds, I spotted the delegation from The Hope, Carshalton: my companions for the day. A tall bugger in a Wales shirt – Nick, one of the veterans of The Hope team, Korfballist extraordinaire, a familiar face in drinking dens from Farringdon to Brighton – and an ageing hippie who has been terrorising the pub scene since an unknown poet first declaimedHwæt!” - my dad, Molyneux Senior, DPS of The Hope and all round beardy beery.

“Well,” said father dearest, “I’ve been here for two hours already and have tried every dark beer in the place. Now you’re here, I can drink the hoppy ones.” Ah, my dad, he knows I’m a hop fiend. After a brief break for black pudding sausage rolls, we began to womble our way round the stands, chatting to brewers, sales kids, numbers people, landlords, and bloggers. I started off faithfully checking in my beers on Untapped, but as the afternoon wore on, it was sadly neglected; there were too many people to witter on at, and too many beers to sample. I don’t believe I’ve forgotten anything earth-shaking.

So, what did I love, and what did I find… interesting? I’m going to have to pare it down rather a lot for this post. Renaissance Brewing, from New Zealand, were pretty special. Their Discovery APA (4.5%) was delightfully zingy and rounded. I hope to encounter it in a pub, where I can relax and throw back a few pints of it. I indulged my guilty pleasure of alcoholic ginger beer with a 4% taster from Hawkes, which was actually rather lovely (an opinion shared by Nate of Booze, Beats & Bites). Mol Sr. was very impressed, and has ordered some for the pub, so if you’re in South London on a sunny day and fancy something gingery that will get you pissed, get your arse down to the Hope for a lovely refreshing bevvy.

Now, with a full day of sampling ahead of me I had intended to start off slow, but Arbor and Founders were staring me in the face from across the room, and so that resolution flew straight out of the window, as they always do. Arbor Why Kick A Moo Cow (5.5%) was on great form (don’t drink it with a sparkler, it doesn’t work nearly as well!), as was their Yakima Valley (7%), which has always held a very special place in my heart. Arbor do make some ruddy decent beer. A while ago I tried their collaboration with BrewDog Bar Bristol, Pirate Badger Attacks (7.8%), which was – well, it was full of coconut, and it rather divided people, but I thought it was nice, and deceptively drinkable. Next up was sampling at the Founders stall, manned by a lovely gent who, despite my assurance that I was familiar with most of the beers, insisted that I try almost everything. What an excellent chap! One beer I was not familiar with was their Breakfast Stout (8.3%), packed full of bitter chocolate, oatiness, and COFFEE. It deserves the Caps Lock. The tubby child on the bottle label is pretty unnerving, but this beer is good stuff.

Samples increased, chats were had, and all around there was an overarching sense of camaraderie. To me, it felt like the biggest Meet the Brewer event ever, and not just brewers – you could settle down to listen to discussion panels manned (personned?) by hugely knowledgeable people from many different sections of the industry. One of the highlights of the day was, of course, meeting various people I had only previously spoken to via Twitter, including the stellar It Comes In Pints? kids, who were so warm and lovely and clever, and who have, of course, also written about the afternoon and waffled far less than I have.

ici pints me

Bateman’s deserve an honourable mention for trying really hard, and for having a really lovely chap behind their bar. Their B Bock (6%) was alright, and their Black Pepper Ale (5.1%) was quite charming, reminding me of how as a child I was taught to put black pepper on strawberries. I’m afraid that I didn’t feel quite brave enough to sample their beers that tasted of chocolate and orange and all that bollocks. There’s a time and a place, I suppose, but I wasn’t feeling it, and a chocolate biscuit beer did not appeal at that moment. I’m sad that they look less old-school now, but hopefully it won’t be forever. Late Knights P.IPA (5.4%) was another interesting one, the P standing for Polish. I must say, I haven’t tried anything quite like it, but it was a solid beer. I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on these guys in future.

Oz Clarke, me, and Tom from Celt Experience

So, while I was exploring the offerings at The Celt Experience bar, I happened to bump into their head bloke, Tom, and, erm, the king of wine. After playing it semi-cool, I kind of went into nerd mode, and asked for a photo. What is it the kids say these days – yolo? Anyway, this is a photo of Oz (who I politely told off for not visiting any of the pubs on the Otley Run that actually serve cask-conditioned beer when he was on telly with whats’isface, hah, representing Leeds University Union Real Ale Society til I die) and me and Tom, who is an utter star and let us try some of a beer from Celt‘s Ogham series; Ash (10.5%), an imperial porter. Oh my, it’s a big beer. We sampled it with a very smelly blue cheese, which I can’t usually stomach too well, but paired with this beer it was absolute perfection. I love Celt‘s stuff, with Bleddyn (5.6%) rocking my world earlier this year paired with some Kit Calvert Wensleydale, and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for their beers in and around Manc.

I’ve saved the best til last. This feels like a bit of a cheat, as I drank so much of their stuff when I was at Leeds, and they are still a relatively local brewery to me; Ilkley The Mayan (6.5%). This genuinely was my beer of the day. So much chocolate and coffee and chilli and oh my god. In a day of rushing round bars and stalls, this beer brought me a moment of quiet in a whirlwind of activity. I stood, and tasted it, and the world melted away for a second. That’s what a good beer should do to you. Try it. You might not adore it to the extent that I do, but you’ll like it. If you don’t, well, I feel sad for you.

me and Nate Dawg
  Shut up, we’re fucking metal.

Shortly before five, security politely but firmly herded us all out of the building to make way for the next session, and, the old Truman Brewery being on Brick Lane, of course we all went to BrewDog Bar Shoreditch. I had seen some of my colleagues during the day at the trade session, and so I did feel bad for other colleagues I said hi to over the bar at Shoreditch as they were serving me! Would have preferred to throw back a few beers with them over the evening, but they were doing an admirable job slaking the thirsts of slightly tipsy beer geeks. Had a bevvy with a few of the Twitterati, including the inimitable Nate, spent far too much on Mikkeller SpontanCherry Malaga Barrel Aged (8.2%) (I’ll be talking about this beer in a blog soon), and eventually got on the train home to the suburbs with Mol Sr.

It was a marvellous day, and though I was gutted to have missed some London beeries due to TFL being silly, I had a wonderful time. I don’t remember who said it, but beer people are good people.

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

 

American Craft Beer Evening at Mary and Archie

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!