A Missive From The Whirlwind

Hello beeries! This blog has been awfully neglected lately; life has been mad. I always admire those dedicated bloggers who can sit down after a hectic day and write a fantastic post, it’s a skill that I am unlikely to ever acquire. We can but try, and so here’s a brief update on what’s been going on in the life of Molyneux…

Well, IndyMan was absolutely killer, and I did mean to blog about it, I swear, but so many talented folk comprehensively covered it that I felt less bad about not writing anything. That, and the fact that we had moved flat literally about five days beforehand, killed that potential post. Papa Mol and the superb Suzy came up for the Friday afternoon session and crashed in my living room, which added to the mayhem! On Saturday morning, Suzy disappeared bright and early to go and work at another beer festival (superwoman? I think so!), and Papa Mol and I whizzed around to a few breweries to pick up some beer for him to take back down to The Hope in Carshalton & The Trafalgar in South Wimbledon. Keykegs, casks, e-kegs and doliums from Runaway, Quantum, Indy Man Brew House, Shindigger, and Squawk all made their way down to London, and I returned to the comfort of my sofa to nurse an well-deserved hangover… Beer of the festival? Can’t pick just one. Arbor’s two year old Goo Goo G’joob impy stout was a thing of beauty, Against The Grain’s Citra Ass Down was exactly the juicy, sticky American IPA that I adore, and Wild Beer Co & Toccalmatto’s Indigo Child was a delightfully sippable sour of some substance!

IndyMan wasn’t the only Mancunian indie of October, with the Independent Salford Beer Festival following a couple of weeks later. Organised by Jim of Beers Manchester, this small but perfectly formed fest was put on to raise money for St Sebastian’s Community Centre in Salford, and I must say, I haven’t seen a cask list that impressive for a very long time. I was back behind the bar pulling cask beer for the first time in yonks (after a year of keg at BrewDog!) and I loved every minute of it. Beer, vibe, attendees and my fellow volunteers: all great. Beer of the festival? Hands down, it had to be Five Towns’ Raven King. Dark, full of coffee, and compulsive.  Well done to Jim for putting together such an amazing festival for a good cause, and I’ll definitely be back behind the bar next year.

Another highlight of October was the chance to visit Marble, one of my favourite breweries, where I got to try Earl Grey IPA fresh from the tank! Blissful, but you’ll have to wait a little longer for a proper write-up of that one.

The thing that’s been keeping me so busy throughout November, though, is my new job! As Twitter folks may know, I’m now working at Chorlton Brewing Company, primarily looking after sales stuff, but also working on other projects and helping out with bits and bobs around the brewery… I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m going to be doing rather a lot of bottling!! I even have my very own brewing wellies, which, having steel toe caps, are actually rather more robust than my DMs. Finding them in a size 4 was not as straightforward as it might have been.



So my dears, keep an eye on Chorlton Brewing Company. We are specialising in sour beer (happy Molyneux!) and our first, Amarillo Sour, will be out just before Christmas. Updates soon… x

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

Chorlton Brewing Company: Prototypes

I like to keep my ear to the ground, especially with regards to new local breweries, and a little while ago I discovered Chorlton Brewing Company via Twitter. They’re still in the process of starting up and going commercial, but I liked their vibe: “Fresh pale ale, roasty porter and wild fermented Lambic-style offerings”. Well, we all know I’m a sucker for a sour, so I decided to keep an eye on them.

Recently Mike, the brewer, decided to give us a sneak peak at some of the beers he’s been developing, and I was lucky enough to sample a couple of prototype brews. These beers are still a work in progress, but, with Mike’s permission, I thought I’d give you lot a little preview of what sort of malarkey you have to look forward to when Chorlton Brewing Co are up and running!

Bottles of Sandalwood IPA and Dirty Porter peated porter from the Chorlton Brewing Company


Dirty Porter – Prototype 1 (6.2%)

The ‘dirtiness’ in this porter comes from peat-smoked malt. It’s got a prominent coffee and chocolate profile, accompanied by a sweetness which, if I hadn’t been aware of the style beforehand, might have led me to guess that this was a milk stout. The mouth feel is smooth, if a little lacking in body. The peated character becomes a tad more noticeable as the beer warms, and it lingers a little at the end, but, as Mike noted in the newsletter he circulated with the bottles, it could do with having a bit more ‘oomph’. For a first prototype, this is an enjoyable drop, and with a few tweaks (carbonation issues, more peat and a tad more body), this will be a very good and interesting beer. I’m looking forward to trying the next version.

Sandalwood IPA – Prototype 2 (7.4%)

Straight away, this beer has a huge, aromatic, fresh nose, with notes of mango and pineapple. There is another, almost spiced, sweet scent present, which I assume is the sandalwood. In the mouth it’s juicy and effervescent, with a little resin. The main juicy hit dissipates quickly, leaving a subtle sandalwood which continues into the after taste along with a pleasant bitterness. The mouth feel is slightly oily, but in a good way. The sandalwood is understated, but it works well with the tropical fruit character, really amping up the pineapple notes. Once again, there are carbonation issues due to current equipment limitations, but those are in the process of being sorted. I personally would prefer a little bit more body – otherwise it’s just too easy to throw back like fruit juice, and that’s a dangerous game at 7.4%! Over all, it’s a bloody nice beer, and one I’ll happily recommend to hop-fiend friends once the brewery is up and running.

Thanks to Mike for letting me sample the prototypes, and I hope we’ll be able to get our grubby paws on Chorlton Brewing Company beer in pubs and shops soon. Cheers!

Edit 08/12/14 – At the start of November I began working for Chorlton Brewing Company. When I tried these beers I had no idea that this would happen, but I’m delighted that it did!

ShinDigger Brewing Co: An Interview

If you’ve been out and about in Manchester recently, you might have already heard the name ShinDigger, or even got your hands on a pint or bottle of their Pacific Pale (4.5%). I picked up a bottle from The Epicurean on Simon‘s recommendation and, later that afternoon, I settled down and poured myself a glass; it was good! A lovely pale ale with beautiful aromas and lots of body, this is a beer I’d happily enjoy a few pints of. Last week, at The Dockyard in Media City, I grabbed a pint of Pacific and sat down with George and Paul, the guys behind ShinDigger, to find out what they’re all about.

shindigger pacific pale ale pump clip

So what’s the story – how did ShinDigger get started?
When we were living together as students at Manchester University in 2012, we decided to buy a home brew kit, basically with the intention of making very, very, cheap beer at a time when we were very, very, poor. The first few goes were a bit of a disaster, but after a while we got the hang of it, and started developing our own recipes. We got really into brewing and developed a passion for really hop forward, American styles, packing our brews full of flavour. Then our friends started to drink our beer and we started selling it at house parties. That’s when the first idea of an actual business was conceived – when we realised that our beer was actually good enough that people wanted to buy it, and would choose to drink it over a macro lager. The next step happened when Paul did an Enterprise masters at university, based around setting up your own business. We applied our craft beer dream to Paul’s degree and managed to get a loan from the Government start up loans scheme in Spring 2013, which gave us the capital to get things moving. 
Eventually we managed to find a micro brewery who were happy to let us brew there, as gypsy brewers. Outstanding Beers, based in Bury, had done contract brewing before, and they believed in us. We launched our first beer, Pacific Pale, in October 2013, initially on keg, then a cask batch, and as of last week it’s been bottled as well. We launched our second beer only about a month ago, but now we’re going to be able to release beers much more quickly. We’re launching our third beer at Stockport Beer Festival at the end of May, and after that, well, the first port of call is getting out the old home brew kit and testing some of our ideas; we’ve got plans for a black IPA and a rye beer. We want to end up with a spectrum of beers, so if you’re new to craft you can start off with something very light. We’re even planning on producing a good quality lager, infused with a subtle hint of lemon and lime.
polaroid style photo of shindigger brewers
What’s your favourite dispense method for your beer?
Definitely keg. It’s like a hybrid, you get the chilled and refreshing nature of lager combined with the flavour of ale; the best of both worlds, basically! Sometimes cask can be a little flat, a bit room temperature, and we’ve found that people tend to want a refreshing drink.

How many pubs, bars, and beer shops can we currently find ShinDigger in?
Beer shops are new to us, as we only started to bottle very recently; we’re in six or seven places. Our beer features as a guest in about fifty places at the moment, and that’s growing all the time. We’ve got about four permanent places where our beer is on all the time, otherwise bars tend to take a keg every week or so. We’re mainly based in the City Centre and Greater Manchester, although we have a few customers in Chester, one in Sheffield, and we’ve even had a keg in Liverpool quite recently, so we’re starting to spread our wings! Our biggest problem as gypsy brewers has always been meeting demand, so we’re currently focusing on supplying existing customers, rather than actively going out and selling. We’re brewing a lot of beer in a couple of weeks time, which will provide us with a platform to go out and talk to some new bars, rather than just keeping up supply to our existing customers.

How often are you in the brewery?
We’re there all the time, but not necessarily to brew. We’ll go along whenever we can to help out, muck in with their brews, drop off empties and chat about our new recipes. To actually brew our own beer, we’re in there about twice a month. It’s been really useful working with brewers who have more commercial experience than us; in a way, they’ve been mentors, giving us experienced advice about the beer industry. That’s been great for us. If anyone was considering starting a brewery, we’d advise them to start off as a gypsy brewer, as it lets you tap into the knowledge and experience of your established brewing partner. It’s a good process to go through.
brewer sits on pallet of bottles
What do you think about the term craft beer?
We think it makes sense. It basically describes any small brewer who’s independent and making good beer. We can see why people might not want to label it, but to us, it’s a quick and useful distinction. The problem with craft beer at the moment is that there’s a knowledge gap caused by its pretentious image. When they’re still new to good beer, people find it daunting to go to a bar and be faced with barrel-aged offerings when they want something light and easy. A very simple definition will give the average person on the street a base to work from, and hopefully that little bit of education will help break down the gap, filling in the grey area. We think that will only help push craft beer forward, helping casual drinkers to understand and embrace that side of things, which will allow the market to grow and flourish.

What are your favourite beers – and to descend even further into geekery, favourite hops?
Punk IPA has that really fruity, tropical flavour that we want in a beer, the same with Jaipur, Hawkshead IPA, and Beavertown Gamma Ray. They have this massive aromatic citrus punch on the nose, cramming in huge aromas; they must be dry hopping the shit out of them! In terms of hops, New Zealand has the edge over America; the tropical stuff like Nelson, with that huge passionfruit hit, although, Citra is a favourite of ours. Our West Coast IPA is straw coloured and packed with citrus-based hops, Citra, Cascade, Amarillo… It went down really well, so we’re about to spend loads of money on Citra to see us through to the next hop harvest!

Have any breweries particularly inspired you?
One brewery that’s been a massive influence for us is BrewDog. They’ve created a brand which reaches out to people who might not otherwise try craft beer. They aren’t just trying to be another craft beer brewery; they’re actively trying to get people who are drinking lager into craft beer, and that’s a big inspiration for us. That’s what we want to do. We feel there’s potential to get normal people who drink macro lager, put a craft beer in front of them, say “try this”, and they’ll enjoy it – so far, that’s been the case. 
One of the things that’s a big inspiration for us, more generally, is that we’re making beer, beer makes people happy, and we’d like to think that therefore, we’re making happiness. Our motto is “Enjoy the moment”. When you’re drinking a beer with your friends, you’re having a good time, and the fact that we’re part of that through creating a beer for that experience is enough to motivate us. We get up every day and do what we’re passionate about: making good beer. Our name, ShinDigger, embodies the ethos that beer is about having fun. Our goal is to get as many people as possible enjoying beer, and also enjoying the best possible beer for them. You could go to a pub and drink bland lager all night long, but why not have a good time with your friends, in the same environment, while drinking a really nice beer that’s been designed especially for you?
brewer at beer festival with casks
Are there any beer festivals you’re particularly excited about this year?
We unfortunately missed Craft Beer Rising this year, though we went in 2013. What we like about festivals like Craft Beer Rising and IndyMan is that they’re putting a new face on craft beer. For our generation, beer can sometimes be seen as an ‘old man’ drink, so this new type of beer festival with an urban vibe, DJs and street food is giving beer a more youthful image. Coming up, we’re looking forward to Stockport Beer Festival at the end of May, where we’ll be launching a new beer, and we’re doing the Allgates beer festival. We’re also really looking forward to Love Beer Festival at Dulcimer. Our first ever beer festival was the Love Beer festival in Chorlton last year, and the guys at Love Beer are getting a lot of really interesting beers in for this festival; our West Coast Pale Ale‘s going to be there. We only made ten casks of that, so it’s hard to get your hands on at the moment, though we’ll be brewing it again soon.
Moving away from beer festivals, we think it’s important for craft beer to have a presence at music and arts festivals. Our beer’s going to be at Fat Out Fest in Salford, which is a music, arts and culture festival, we’re going to be at Sounds From The Other City music festival, and we’re also going to have a presence in the VIP area at Parklife. With all of the light, refreshing, yet full-flavoured offerings available, we think there’s definitely space for craft beer to be a staple at festivals.  
I asked my Twitter followers what they would like to ask the guys, and below are a few of the questions I was sent.
How do you try to differentiate yourself when so many young craft breweries are hoppy pale, IPA, impy stout dependent? (From @SoHoptimistic)
We have a brand which is an extension of our own beliefs and values, and we put that in front of people. We aren’t trying to out-beer anyone, we aren’t trying to make the weirdest, coolest, most ‘craft’ product; all we do is make beer for people like ourselves. We’re making good, easy-drinking, fairly low ABV beer for people to enjoy with their friends in a beer garden.

Where is it important to stick with tradition, and where might it be important to break with tradition? (From @MagdaKnight)
We never try to brew in accordance with tradition, we just try and create the best possible quality product. That’s why we prefer to keg our beers, because we think that’s the way they taste best. We use New World hops, rather than English hops. When we started home brewing, we weren’t really paying attention to what others were doing, we were just doing it for ourselves. We aren’t too keen on paying attention to industry trends – we’re just trying to make the perfect beer for our generation.

Where do you see yourselves in 5, 10, 15 years time? (From @TotalCurtis)
We don’t want to give too much away right now, but a few things that spring to mind include: Owning our own brewery… Sticking with our ethos of getting people to enjoy the moment, and reaching out to more people… Oh, and more dry hopping!
shindigger logo

Cheers, chaps! You can get your mucky paws on a pint of ShinDigger at the Love Beer Fest at Dulcimer Bar in Chorlton over the Easter weekend (17th-21st April), or send the guys a tweet over at @ShinDiggerCraft. They also have a Facebook page, you know, if you still use that sort of thing, and a website where you can keep up with their blog.

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!

New Beer Shop: The Epicurean

writing on the wall 'The Epicurean - a place devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that derived from fine ales'

Once upon a time, I lived above a pub. Then I moved to Brixton, where the Craft Beer Co was five minutes from my front door. When I moved to Manchester last year, one of my main criteria for flat-hunting was the close proximity of good beer; luckily, I discovered Burton Road, and on it, Mary and Archie. The availability of craft beer on the Road soon became even better with the opening of Volta, from the people behind Chorlton’s Electrik, who always have a good little range of ales and lagers. Then, to my joy, The Epicurean landed.

I must say, I love a good beer shop. There’s just something about being surrounded by all of those varied bottles of delicious beer that makes me happy. Burton Roadites had previously been able to buy a few select bottles of decent ale from the wonderful Reserve Wines, but the Road had really been crying out for a craft beer shop. Enter Simon and Rob!

The Epicurean shop front on Burton Road, West Didsbury

These two beer lovers have gone with an elegant, minimalist aesthetic for their shop front, embracing the scene’s move away from old-school design and towards something far more stylish. But don’t worry, lovers of rustic chic – they’ve got comforting wooden shelves and crates of German beer stacked around the place, striking a nice balance between tradition and sleek modernity. This balance is reflected in the beers they stock – you can pick up all of your old favourites, from Timothy Taylor’s Landlord to Paulaner, while also choosing from a range which would get the hearts of hop-fiend beer nerds racing. Founders Centennial in cans, limited bottles of Burning Sky‘s Saison a la Provision, or a Pacific Pale from new kids on the block ShinDigger, anyone? Brilliant British beer, local ale, hop forward Americana, German lager, Belgian beer, Welsh cider, sweet fruit-flavoured beer, homemade pies, salted caramel, cordials… There’s something here for every palate.

stacks of german beersshelves of british beer bottles

I’ve picked up a fair few beers from here in the last week, my favourites so far being Siren, Omnipollo and Lindqvist Nacken (6.4%) – read the story behind this beer here - and ShinDigger Pacific Pale Ale (4.5%), who I interviewed recently.

sign saying 'over 220 beers in stock, if you can't find what you like, tell us, and we'll do our best to get it... find us on facebook and twitter'

The Epicurean has only been open for a couple of weeks, but already it feels like it’s been on the Road forever. We’ve already seen a couple of meet the brewer events go on at the shop, featuring brewers such as Geipel and Tickety Brew, and a little bird tells me that there are going to be many more, so if you want to meet the people behind the beer in a chilled atmosphere, keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook for upcoming events. Simon and Rob really do care about providing people with great beer, and, as the sign says, if you particularly want something that they don’t have, they’ll do their best to get their hands on it. You can’t say fairer than that. Cheers!

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!

The Marble Beerhouse, Chorlton

On walking into the Marble Beerhouse a few weeks ago, my first impression was that it reminded me of Arcadia in Leeds. Actually, to be completely accurate, that was the second thought that crossed my mind; the very first thing I focused on when I walked through the door, before I had a chance to take in the surroundings, was an old boy sat at the end of the bar, pint in hand, talking to a member of bar staff. The way they were interacting just screamed ‘regular’, and that’s one of the things I loved most about this pub… But, more on that later. Taking in the warm, earthy colours, bare floorboards, and brickwork, it brought back memories of my second year at university, sitting in Arcadia, enjoying a pint of local beer and some chilli olives. Of course, both of those places feel very much like some of the bars I spent time in while I was in Brussels and Antwerp, but having whiled away so many hours in Arcadia, it’s my immediate point of recall for pubs that feel a bit continental. Despite the Kwak coaster holders, the Beerhouse still manages to be very British; there were a number of tall pub stools, the type with wooden legs and a padded seat, and tables with fancy metalwork underneath them… I may just be homesick for traditional, ‘proper’ pubs after working in a city centre bar for so long, but it felt very warm and comforting.

At half three on a Wednesday afternoon, it was subdued, but not by any means dead. Regulars supped pints and chatted to the bartender (rather an American way to put it, but the ‘barmaid’ thing feels like an archaism, and ‘member of staff’ seems a little cold), a couple enjoyed a quiet beer in the corner, and a pub cat napped on one of the benches. Plumping for a half of Marble Pint (3.9%), a lovely sessionable beer which I don’t get the opportunity to drink nearly as often as I’d like, I settled down in the corner with my book, and took in the important details. Five Marble pumps, plus two guests (a Hand Drawn Monkey IPA and a Halloween beer by Abbeydale). Widely available keg such as Krombacher, Carlsberg, and Erdinger was present, alongside Addlestones cider, a cheeky keg of Red Willow Wreckless, and Mort Subite Kriek. There was also a range of bottles: a good selection of Marble stuff, of course, but also things like Chimay, Duvel, Saison Dupont, Paulaner, and Dom Kolsch, and, as per, a selection of wines, spirits, and all that jazz. The TV on the wall was not on, and there was no music playing, which was absolutely fine by me!

Of course, it didn’t take me long to finish my half of Pint, and on my next trip up to the bar to give a half of the Hand Drawn Monkey IPA a go (I’m afraid I don’t remember the name or strength, but it was nice), I ended up in conversation with one of the regulars. Although I had an hour or so to wait for my friend who decided to join me there, I spent that time chatting away over a couple of pints of – well – Pint, and didn’t feel awkward or out of place at all. In my short time there, I got a real feel for the sense of community that exists in that pub, which is always lovely, and as more and more people filtered in from five o’clock onwards, almost everyone was greeted as someone who was obviously familiar. That’s something that you don’t seem to get nearly as much in city centre bars – although of course we do have a few wonderful regulars over at BrewDog Mancs – and it made me miss being back home out in the suburbs, where the pub really is the centre of our little community, and where I can’t walk through the door without the majority of the customers saying hello.

It goes without saying that I’ll be visiting this charming little pub again. Good, local (very reasonably priced, too!) beer, and a lovely atmosphere. I’ve seen on their Twitter that they’ve had Buxton and Magic Rock on keg relatively recently, and Saltaire and Blackjack in cask… Bloody lovely.