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Tyson is an underpaid writer, beer anarchist and cheese addict living in the North West of England.
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Did the earth move for you?


A local crawl tonight, taking in those pubs within (depending on your level of fitness) walking distance before jumping the bus for more exotic fare. There has been some discussion recently on "traditional" pubs etc, and two pubs on the crawl are quite interesting in that respect. Both are on Walmersley Road, Bury. The Cricketers is a small, mid-terrace, boozer, of the kind that is becoming rare in Bury. It's now basically a lounge and a pool area. Once a Whitbread house, it served cask for many years and had a good, local, following. An old school pub, it has a back door that leads into the streets behind, handily away from prying eyes and the main road. This use to prove very useful not only for exiting a lock-in, but early admission on Sundays. Only to watch the sport, you understand.

Across the road lies the Towler. Once a Websters house, it has a large car park and use to draw a completely different clientele to that of the Cricks. Although both were locals pubs (and smokey with it), the Cricks had a younger audience, whilst the Towler was much more sedate. Interestingly, although the Towler was always cask, and had more choice, it was always pretty tame stuff, like Websters. The Cricks, post Whitbread, just had Holts, but usually in good nick. Then the Cricks crashed-a couple of short term landlords, no cask, odd hours and its reputation was shot. Plus, times were changing, and people were less inclined to stick to locals and gravitating towards Bury. Meanwhile, the Towler continued on merrily, but if you thought this was the parable of the tortoise and the hare, you'd be wrong.
Fast forward and the Cricks has steadied, but not really improved. It is one that is suffering from the smoking ban, but thats because its got little else going for it. Meanwhile. the Towler has been transformed. The tortoise has become the hare, or whatever you want to call it. Knowing the smoking ban was coming in, it had a major refit. It became the first non-smoking pub in Bury, built on an extension to cater for all day food, and replaced sedate seating with sofa and chairs. It's got more of a bar feel now, which is unusual for a local, but it still is a pub. It serves two real ales. Ok, only Theakstons and the dreadful OSH, but you can still go in and drink without any pressure to eat. Some of the locals have been scared away, but there is now a hardcore building up who appreciate what the Towler can offer. Interestingly, it appears both pubs now have the same private owner, but he wishes to keep them separate in style and clientele. A mistake in my book, as the Cricks needs something to stop it going the way of many Walmersley pubs. As always cask beer would be a good start.
And the answer to the title question? No. Apparently people were running outside awaiting armageddon as the earthquake ravaged the country. Me, I was sleeping soundly. Obviously the sign of a clean conscience. Or a shedload of ale...

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

I don't like Mondays

Well who can argue with "Sir" Bob? Deciding the Monday Blues needed shaking off, I found myself in Choice. This is a light, airy, bar/restaurant in Castefield, Manchester which has a good reputation for both food and service. Apparently popular with media types, it's always quiet when I visit off peak. They are currently having a winter sale, which provided the excuse for a visit.

Choice has always been better than the average gastro bar in terms of beer choice, but I was pleased to see they had added to it. Apart from the likes of Erdinger etc they have several English bottled beers, including now, Ginger Marble. However, it was Dunhma Massey Deer Beer which caught my eye. Having had several of their beers at the Dogs, I was intrigued to try what was a new one for me. Deer Beer-well it was about £3.40, but it was bottle conditioned. At 4.5% it had the bitterness I've come to expect from DM beers, but with a definite toffee twang. I hope to try it in its cask form to make a comparison.

Hops were soon replaced by the grape as there were some good reductions to be had. The Marc Ducournaun Grand Heron wasn't bad (for a French wine), but the antipodean Yering Frog blew it away in terms of refreshing the palate. Now getting into the groove, a quick calculation revealed that Marlborough St Clair Sauvignon Blanc (an old friend), was £8.25 a glass, but only £17.20 a bottle. So bottle(s) it was. Oh, and the food wasn't bad either. The marinaded Haddock was tasty and well presented, but as usual the Cheese Board was the star. Excellent British cheeses with matching biscuits and a very tangy relish. Now you can have whisky with this, but I've tried that and I'm not convinced that the combination works. So it was Port for me-who says Mondays have to be blue?

Monday, 25 February 2008

The Old White Lion Hotel

Hurrying on my way to one of Bury's many salubrious real ale haunts, I took a short cut through here. Unusually, it still retains a back and front entrance, with the revolving door at the front being the last of its kind in Bury. Handily, the back door is right by the Gents, so you can call in and relieve the pressure without the guuilt of having to pass the bar. Being brazen, I did have a nosey round, as it does have a lot going for it. Still no real ale available, but it did have a good mix of Sunday clientele. Ironically, when Bury centre was shedding cask (pre TS etc), the Lion persevered with it, and, being residential, was notorious for its lock-ins. Going further back to the days of real Boddingtons, I remember being refused service because I was wearing jeans.

Time and trade has taken its toll on the Lion, but it wouldn't take too much to restore this back to where it belongs-at the heart of Bury's drinking scene. It (uniquely for the centre),retains its multi-room layout, has a good base of customers to draw on and, of course, has location. A bit of tlc, overhaul the kitchen and regulars would flock back. Oh, and there's the matter of cask, of course. Putting the pumps to use would be nice. And save it from just being useful as a pit stop.

Sunday, 24 February 2008



"Are you dancing?

Are you asking?

I'm asking

I'm dancing"


So it was thus whistling the Liver Birds theme tune that we skipped through the streets of the European City Of Culture. Liverpool has provided many a good crawl over the years and an overcast day did little to damper the spirits. First stop was the Ship & Mitre. Now in all the years I've been coming to Liverpool, this pub has never been open when advertised. True to form, it was still closed when we arrived for our first drink. However, after a few minutes skulking, the doors were opened and it was a race to the bar. The more professional of us hung back to allow the warm beer to be pulled through and study the selection, which was very good. I settled for Little Valley (3.9%) which was red and inoffensive. Empire Longbow (4.2%) was golden and despite a slightly unappealing aroma, had a pleasnat hop kick. Then it was full steam ahead and look out Liverpool.

Next stop was the Lion which is a great historic boozer and one of my favourites. Wentworth Venture (3.6%) was chosen. Unfortunately, this proved to be just brown and thin. Perhaps I should have tried the Lees! Thomas Rigbys was a surprise disappointment. This Okells pub (despite the nice back room), was looking decidedly tired. No food available and a limited beer choice didn't help. An Okells pub with only Bitter on? This was tried and I found it only average. The White Star was also looking a little faded, but the beer selection looked good and we had some jovial local banter whilst there. Rugby's Wrong Shaped Balls proved popular, but my Bowland Gold was again only average, and not a patch on its recent appearance in Bury. Looking for food, we headed for the Swan which was new to me. A side street boozer, first impressions were not favourable. Dim red lighting didn't help the gloomy interior. However, a good selection of beers lightened the mood, and the George Wright's Valentine Kiss (4.2%) was excellent.

The Pilgrim had an even better choice of beers including Copper Dragon Golden Pippin. However, as it was Phoenix Brewery's first account in Liverpool (and the brewer was present), I plumped for White Monk which was very good. An interesting pub, each table has a different brewery emblazed upon it. Our next stop-Ye Cracke, has proved inconsistent over the years and so it was today. A combination of deadlegs and poor choice had me scuttling to the Belvedere. This is a cracking little, two roomed (both with real fires), pub set amongst an area that resembles a Chelsea suburb. It was amongst this unlikely setting that two hound dogs spat their dummies out and threatened to hit each other with their handbags. However, this didn't prevent me from enjoying a very nice pint of Pippin. A stone throw away is the Blackburne Arms which is another smart, modern, establishment. Perhaps a little sterile for some tastes, however, it can't be faulted in terms of choice and quality.
Disappointment awaited (once again) at the Philharmonic. This famous Liverpool pub hasn't always been good, beer wise, and so it proved today. Worth visiting if you haven't been before, otherwise keep your beer expectations low. On the other hand, Fly in the Loaf rarely disappoints. Today was no exception with a good choice of Okells beers and guests. My Fullers Discovery was a well conditioned, cool, enjoyable pint. The Okells Bitter was also good. Last stop for me was the Roscoe Head and its cosy, very small, tap room. Yet another pub that is much better after the smoking ban, there were 6 beers on offer. Wisely avoiding the Hambleton, I tried Jennings Bitter (not bad), before sticking on the Pippin.

Just time for a toliet stop at the Dispensary and a dash for the station to get back home in time for the rugby.An enjoyable, if mixed, day out.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

All I am saying is give grapes a chance

After a beer heavy week, my thoughts turned to the grape. I was booted and suited and enjoying a late supper at Malmaison (a rather posh Manchester hotel, who do have some good beers available. However, I thought it was time I gave the grape a chance. Food wise I had plumped for a crisp salad with vacherin-a new cheese to me, and the reason for ordering the dish. Like all the best cheese, it's unpasturised and had a pleasant sweet tanginess. To complement it, I tried a glass of Pinot Grigio delle Veneze which was crisp, fruity and slightly nutty. Against my better judgement I also tried an Italian Red-Cabernet Sauvignon Veneto which was too rich and tobacco flavoured for my palate. I softned the blow with Bodegas Castro Martin which delivered gentle peach and apricots.

My pumpkin and ricotta ravioli was upon me now,so it was decision time. Austrailia cried out to me,so a bottle of Thomas Mitchell Marsanne was quickly summoned. Ridiculously overpriced at these places, at least it delivered a good mix of pine and mango to refresh the tired palate. Annoyingly, but not unexpectedly, the cheese board contained French as well as English cheese. However, the English selection was better than average, and the walnut bread and the chutney were very good. Just time for a Knappstein Riesling (nice and lemony), before the twinkling lights of Manchester beckoned

Friday, 22 February 2008

Anyone for a quickie?

"Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes into hours"


I found myself recalling Mr Lightfoot's lyric as I mused over the notion of beer minutes. I've come to the conclusion that they exist outside the normal space continuim, in parallel pocket universies known as pubs. They must do, otherwise how else to explain last night? It all started innocently enough. A message from Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle. Did I fancy a little apres-ski? Still recovering from the excesses of last night and a hard day down the pit, the obvious answer was no. However, I thought maybe I could squeeze a dry Martini down, so just time for a quickie then. Lots to do etc.

Fast forward six hours, and we are being asked to evacuate the TS as apparently the staff have homes to go to. Not my idea of a quickie! Of course it was all Eddie's fault. He loves to converse on many topics-the Weimar Republic and German marching tunes of the 1930's are particular favourites-and so it was time passed in beer minutes. We saw several shift changes of punters from the early evening brigade to the one before home lot.Not to mention a guest appearance from Eddie's papa. Now it's not ideal to spend so long in one place, but we consoled ourselves with the fact that one barfly had been there since noon.

Beer wise we enjoyed Hopstar Winter Ale-surprisingly light, and O'Hanlon's Yellow Hammer-both at 4.2%. However, a special mention must go to Hambleton Bitter. This 3.8% was absolutely terrible. Hambleton have been dodgy for a bit now, but this sank to new depths. Strongly diacetyl with a hardwood finish, it was one of the worst beers I'd had for ages. How this got out of the brewery, I don't know. Anyway, they've had their chances, but it's a red card for Hambleton beers from now on.




Thursday, 21 February 2008

Gone to the Dogs

Serious news brings me scampering to the Dogs tonight. The local Camra branch have overlooked the pub for next year's Good Beer Guide. Understandably, the landlord is less than happy and I think it's fair to say that Camra won't be getting a Christmas card this year. Unfortunately, little I could do but offer sympathy. Leaving out the main real ale pub in Bury will dent the guide's credibility, but by the sound of it, there will be a few prominent ommissions next time round anyway.

Serious discussions require serious drinking and I must admit to being a wee bit greedy tonight. The beer choice was just too good! 4 Outlaws-special mention to Boneshaker (5%) a superb Phoenix Snowbound, and George Wright White Eagle (4.4%) were all too much. Hop overload led to one very happy, but tired beerhound.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Love in a Cold Climate















"What do you get when you fall in love?

You get enough tears to fill an ocean

That's what you get for your devotion"

Deep philosophy in the Railside last night. Love was in the air, forcing us to ponder the truism of Bacharach and David's words as we gazed upon the enthralled, energetic, lovers opposite. Bob the Builder and Rita the Meter Maid (apparently actually a school dinner lady), were so busy with each other that they barely touched their Kelham Island Scrumptious. Personally I don't blame them , as this 4.2% was a disappointment, being drinkable, but lacking any features of interest. Even worse was Titanic Iceberg. This is usually very reliable with good crisp hop notes. Tonight it had a taste of burnt malt that was very unpleasant. Much better was Okells Smoked Porter (4.8%), were you could taste the smoked liqourice. There was only one beer to finish on though-Ginger Marble. This 4.5% baby has a very distinctive ginger kick and after 4 pints I was fully gingered up.
As for Bob and Rita, the reason for their happiness soon became obvious. They were married , but not to each other. They were enjoying a romantic tryst away from prying eyes, plus, as they said, Cheddar Valley gets you going. One of my companions cynically noted it gets him going alright-straight on the loo. Anyway, soon they were away in the cold night. Off to enjoy a parkup in the deserted darkness by the side of the Fernhill Depot. For non Buryites, that's a council waste dump. Who says romance is dead?




Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Trouble at the Tubs


The Two Tubs is located in the centre of Bury, opposite the parish church. Allegedly Bury's oldest pub, there are stories of secret tunnels leading between the pub and church. Built around two oak trees from Charles 11's time, it's often quoted as the Two Tubs (AKA The Globe), even though it hasn't been called the Globe for 200 years! Operated by Thwaites, the Blackburn brewer, it use to be a cosy multi-roomed pub with lots of character. It was opened up several years ago and although quite well done, it lost some of its appeal.

The Tubs is something of a conundrum. It should be a flagship for Thwaites, but, as with a lot of their pubs, they didn't seem to know what to do with it. Lacklustre management led to a decline in its reputation and it suffered under the competition of Wyldes and JDW nearby. First mistake was getting rid of cask Mild and replacing it with inferior beers. Second was the half-hearted food operation-food only served at lunchtime when both the pubs nearby were serving all day. Third was the strange opening hours-closed on sundays, thereby missing out on all the sunday shopping trade.

Bizzarely, recently, Thwaites has leased the pub to Eease Leisure who's main interest seems to be weekend entertainment, leaving the pub usually dead in the week. Three beers are available-Original, Bomber and Wainwrights and quality on the Bitter and Bomber is generally ok, if not spectacular. Wainwrights can be more problematic and is sometimes very iffy. Perhaps to try and improve its image, an over 21's policy has now been introduced. Some of the other conditions are reasonable-ie no caps etc. But no work clothes? The Tubs is not some upmarket gastropub. It is an ordinary boozer in the centre of Bury. Even worse is the ban on trainers. What is this, the 1980's??? They should concentrate on the actual clientele, rather than what they are wearing. I always thought the idea of pubs was to be as inclusive as possible, but obvioulsy not.

Whilst sipping some warm Wainwrights, my thoughts were interrupted by an arguement between two old drunks. One I recognised as being barred from most of the pubs in town. I was just thinking they shouldn't have even been allowed in here in their state when kapow, it all kicked off. Cue fisticuffs and broken glass. Worthy of the GBG-the Good Brawl Guide. And this was only Monday night. Well, thanks for proving my point, guys. I suppose it could have been worse-they could have been wearing work clothes or trainers...

Monday, 18 February 2008

When Amber is Golden

After the excesses of yesterday, it was a little bit quieter on the beer front today. The Whitefield Holts Bandit got in touch-did I fancy an appetiser in the TS? May as well I said . It was either that or go to Ikea. So it was I managed to sample Salamander Troubadour (3.9%). Salamander are usually good beers, and this was a nice gold colour, with a good, smooth mouthfeel. Pehaps could have done with more hops, but overall this was an enjoyable beer. Also sampled was Okells Bitter (3.7%).

Now, I'm a big fan of Okells, and their bitter is a great session beer, packing a lot of taste in 3.7%. However, I note that Okells are being a little bit economical with the truth in their description of this beer. They are members of the Cyclops tasting notes scheme, which ideally should simplify the action of choosing a beer. However, one of the problems with this scheme is that it forces brewers to choose from a limited range of categories, and doesn't allow for the cometimes more complex nature of beer. Also, (some), brewers seem tempted to bump their beers up from the copper colour band, to the golden category. Preusmably in the hope of more sales. I first noticed this with Robinsons, who would have us believe that Unicorn is a golden ale. Maybe in their dreams! Now Okells are at it with their Best Bitter which is amber-maybe pale amber-but certainly not golden.

This is not just semantics-if people play fast and loose with descriptions, then that just leads to other problems. For example, if I'm ordering for a festival, I'd be very surprised to get Unicorn and Okells Best after ordering on the strength of the Cyclops notes. Camra already have (independent),official tasting notes that are widely used. Where's the public credibility in having two diverging descriptions in circulation? It shouldn't take too much to be singing from the same hymn sheet. You might think that the local branch of Camra would sort this sort of thing out. You might think that's what BLO (Brewery Liason Officers) are for. But you'd be wrong. Robbie's BLO was as much use as a chocolate fireguard in a volcano. Apparently, not a issue worth mentioning in his opinion. Luckily, Robinsons etc do seem to have an interest in squaring this circle. So it's a case of watch this space...

As they say, the truth is out there. Remember brown is not golden. Amber is not golden. If you can't tell the difference or aren't bothered, you're in the wrong game.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Smithfield




Safely back in the home country, Eddie suggested a central pit stop. Discarding the Crown & Kettle on the grounds of decent ale choice, we played safe and settled in the Smithfield. Facers Northern County (3.8%) is usually a safe bet, but today the overall affect was spoilt, yet again, by a trace of diacytol. Much better was Acorn Bloomfield (4.5%) which was golden, had a medium body, and a refreshing zesty citrus hop kick. Just what was needed at this stage of the proceedings. Watching Don Ricardo struggle through his 15th pint, I realised it was time for this beerhound to head to a kennel nearer home, so we left Eddie curry hunting and scampered homeward bound.

A very enjoyable day out with lots of good beer and good company.

Pump Room



No member of staff at the Barum Top admitting to knowing where a good pub was in Halifax, we were left to our own devices. Eventually we staggered across the Three Pigeons once more, and discovered that the Pump Room was but a stones throw away. Oh how we laughed at the irony. The pub itself is a great local consisting of two bars in two rooms and a good range of real ales. Eddie and I plumped for Saltaire Yorkshire Pale (3.8%) a light crisp beer that nursed our flagging palate. We were soon joined by Don Juan Ricardo-pictred above. Then it was time to take advantage of local knowledge for the quickest way back to our coach pick up. Just time for a chip muffin before heading back home.

Barum Top


Barum Top is a large JDW pub in the centre of Hailfax. A convenient last stop for those who wanted food, it was busy for early evening and likely to get more so. Eschewing its delights for something more exotic, Eddie and I set off to look for the Pump Room

Three Pigeons



The Three Pigeons dates from 1932, and is currently owned by Ossett Brewery. It's a fantastic boozer with 3 rooms surrounding a central bar. If the pub and beer weren't enough excitement, on entering, we discovered that the mighty Man U were already 2-0 up. Cue joyous outpourings in all quarters! Well, in a corner that will forever be a part of Manchester, anyway. But spare a thought for poor Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle. Amidst much gnashing of teeth, it emerged that the mighty Barnsley had dispatched his beloved Liverpool. What choice did he have, but to throw himself on the mercy of the beer? Luckily the beers were very good. Ossett Pale Gold (3.8%) was another beer that featured American hops, and delivered a spicy, floral, finish. Ossett Snowdrop (4.2%) was also pale, but delivered a more fruity/spicy mix. I also tried Saltaire Chocolate Stout (5%) which apparently uses Willamette hops. I couldn't detect any in the beer I had, but the chocolate and oatmeal feel was quite pleasant

Elland Brewery


Who says Camra can't organise a piss up in a brewery? Not me after a day out with the denizens of Trafford & Hulme (www.thcamra.org.uk/cms/) branch. The hardy folk of t'other side of Manchester were having an excursion to Elland (www.eandsbrewery.co.uk/ )Brewery, and luckily there was room for Tyson and some of his chums to come along.

Well, where to begin? Firstly, we had to endure the hardship of five hours imbibing various E&S concoctions. And very tasty they all were as well. All in all, 14 different beers were on offer, including some of the Gary Mitchell range. Elland Best Bitter (4%) was dry, bitter, and had a good mix of English and American hops. Nettlethrasher (4.4%) was copper coloured and is a complex mix of 6 different malts. Goldrush (4.6%) was golden in colour, and its mix of 3 malts and 4 hops gave it a spicy, floral aroma and a refreshing citrus taste. Demons Eye (5.2%) was a deep coppered coloured, powerful brew, with malt flavours giving way to a dry finish. Which was the best on offer? Well, a lot of people liked Gary Mitchell's Best Bitter (4%) which was straw coloured and had a delicate grapefruit mouthfeel. E&S Porter was also very good, with port overtures, and a complex coffee and bitter chocolate taste. But my favourite was Gary Mitchell's Eden (4.2%) which was a well conditioned, beautifully pale, session beer with in-your-face hops.

Needing a break from all that drinking, some of us ventured down to the GBG listed Barge & Barrel. This is basically a large, open plan, pub, split into separate drinking areas. An excellent range of 12 awaited our judgement. Springhead Bitter (4%) was a bit thin and lacked the hops we'd been feasting on. Abbeydale Moonshine (4.3%) was golden and had some hop kick, but the bittersweet finish was spoilt by a tang of diacetyl.

It was back to the brewery for some more punishment, before setting of to visit the 3 Pigeons in Halifax.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Dusty Miller

I'd obviously sold the Brimstone in my earlier post, as I was dragged screaming and kicking into the Dusty for some more. Ok, perhaps I didn't need much persuading to try a few pints more, but Eddie, who's usually a Prem man, was highly impressed. Another point in the Dusty's favour, is that it is very close to Vujon, a contender for Bury's best Indian takeaway. So, clever Eddie, multitasked, managing to both drink and choose a dish for him and his beloved. I hope the Manx Minx was suitably impressed...

Help Me Thro'

The Help me Thro' is a tied Thwaites house on Crostons Road, Bury. For over 40yrs run by the legendary Reine Dearden, last year the pub got a new lanndlord and a makeover. Sympathetically restored to its fromer glory, it's a rare example of a multi-roomed terraced local. There is now a drinking area out front, as well as seats for the smokers at the back. Food has also been introduced and with improved opening hours, trade has steadily returned. Most importantly, cask ale has returned, with two usually on offer. Today it was Thwaites Original & Wainwrights. The latter of these at 4.1% and pale blonde in colour is probably the best beer Thwaites currently do, although it's hard to source cask Mild often enough to definitely say. Wainwrights is a little sweet, but easy going enough to warrant a pint or two. Unfortunately, the notoriously strong Thwaites yeast still leaves you with that Thwaites twang in the finish, which knocks it down a mark or two.

The Help Me Thro' is a great local and definitely one of the best Thwaites pubs in Bury.

Trackside

Ah, Valentines Day. A time for romantic, candlelit dinners with the one you love. Sadly ,not always possible with the complications of real life. So it was I found myself having a drink in the TS with Eddie, the eager, legal, beagle. The song says, if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with, but as much as I admire young Eddie, I think that's going too far. Last night I'd enjoyed the always excellent Phoenix Snowbound, and the new beer from Glossop based Howard Town, Love Nest. This was a pale 3.9% beer, apparently brewed to be a (slightly) sweeter version of the hoppy Wrens Nest. The reduction is strength wasn't really noticeable and although it may be sweeter than Wrens, this beer is still dry, hoppy and very moreish. One to look out for.

Today, both the Phoenix and Howard Town had gone. Who had drunk it all??? Hambleton beers have been in decline for some time, and the Stallion I tried proved the point-an off taste that pointed at a brewing fault. Several pints of a very reasonable Archers were consumed, but the standout beer was Acorn Mount Hood IPA. Unlike a lot of psuedo IPAs', this had a respectable strength of 5% and it did what it said on the tin. Mount Hood is, of course, the popular American hop that gives a very distinctive taste to any beer its in. And it certainly gave a kick to this beer. It was lager type in appearance, and had a spicy hop aroma, leading to a zesty refreshing taste and a dry, clean finish. Dangerously drinkable.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Dusty Miller



The Dusty Miller is located on Crostons Road , at a busy road junction, just outside of Bury town centre. It's a Moorhouses (www.moorhouses.co.uk/) tied house and sells a range of their beers. For many years it was in the Good Beer Guide, but under the new management beer quality has been generally under par. However, I'd heard quality was improving, hence a spot visit was required. There have also been reports of what some of the "mixed" clientele have been up to, despite the warning notices. And indeed, last time I was in, I was party to a conversation about the merits of Moroccan Brown. However, as this is not the good hash guide, I shall concentrate on the beer. Which, was to be fair, very good.

The Premier was crisp and refreshing, but even better was the guest beer-Abbeydale Brimstone. With the range of Moorhouses on offer, the pub has struggled to sell much of the guest beers. So it was with a little trepadation that I tried this one. I needn't have worried. This 3.9% was in excellent condition and bursting with flavour. An amber beer, it had a fruity, lemon citrus aroma, that led to a crisp, bitter taste offset by a hint of spice. The finish is long and dry. This beer certainly packs a punch well above its strength and makes for an great session beer.

An excellent visit. The place is looking good (as was the barmaid, btw), if a bit quieter than of old. Is the Dusty returning to the fold of good beer? Only time and more supping will tell...

Robert Peel

Two guest beers to try here today. After avoiding the stampede at the bar, I settled down to savour their delights. The Allgates Hannibal's Nectar (4.8%) was slightly better than the usual offerings from this brewery. Their dark beers can be ok (at a push), but their attempts at lighter beers usually fail. This was quite pleasant, with a good mouthfeel, but was let down by the finish which lacked crispness and had a touch of malt in the aftertaste.

The other beer was Blakemere (them again), Big Duke. Apparently named after a dog (and not Mr Wayne), it was another 4.8%. Unfortunately, it was pure vinegar and had to be returned.

So, still waiting for a good beer in here.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Wyldes

Wyldes is located at the heart of Bury town centre, right next to the Robert Peel. Originally a bank, it was converted into a pub several years ago by Joseph Holts of Manchester. New pub openings are rare (well round here anyway), so it was welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, it's been rather hit and miss since then. Done in the mdorn Holts style, there's lot of exposed wood and a mix of seating styles. Very unusually for pubs these days, there is a bar upstairs (with cask on), but this seems to only be open sporadically. As is the curse of modern builds, the toilets are upstairs as well, meaning although your bladder is saying yes, your legs are saying no. On the beer front, Mild and Bitter are the staples, with the occasional seasonal offering making an appearnce. This being an "upmarket" Holts outlet, the prices are somewhat more expensive than many Holts drinkers are use to paying. However, Bitter is reduced between 2-8pm and on Mondays, it's only £1.49 a pint.

Overall beer quality is usually acceptable, if not remarkable. Purists do argue that the beer is generally served too cold, although I find Holts is better served that way. Anyway, you will get the odd warm pint out of the lines at quiet times. Bitter is a better bet than Mild, which is 50/50 to be off-there just aren't many drinking it. Today, though, both were fine. Seasonal beers are even more of a gamble, as Holts drinkers are notoriously reluctant to try them. Probably because most of them aren't very good! 1849 was on today, but in poor condition.

So maybe worth a visit during the week, ideally as a first drink, otherwise your palate will be compromised. At weekends, it's monkeys in suits on the door and best avoided.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The Waggon & Horses

The Waggon & Horses is situated on Walmersley Road, about half a mile out from the centre of Bury. A large roadside boozer, it's actually the first pub you encounter on the main drag. Not that long ago, there were several pubs on the way into Bury-both on the main road and in side streets. Now they are all gone and the Waggon is the first stop for thirsty travellers. Which is very unfortunate as it has very little to offer. Once a Whitbread local with tap room and lounge, it was opened up many years ago and cask beer is but a distant memory. The recent addition of a smokers brolley hasn't broadened its appeal. It's frequented by either sad punters who have seen their (and the pub's) glory days come and go, and sit there nursing their Guiness. Or there's the ubiquitous "yoof" clientele. Another one that could do much better.

Best avoided.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Trackside

Several beers on from Yorkshire micro Wold Top (www.woldtopbrewery.co.uk/index.html)
Wold Top Bitter at 3.7 % was quite tasty and had an old fashioned bitter kick. Their Falling Stone 4.2% wasn't bad either, although perhaps not distinctive enough.

Hare & Hounds

The Hare & Hounds is at Holcombe Brook, Ramsbottom. Many years ago, it was a failing S&N pub with two insipid beers on, and some nefarious clientele. Along came Andy & Lynn, and along with real ale (and a zero drugs policy) they brought success and stability to this slumbering giant. More and more handpumps were added and regular beer festivals became part of the local drinking calendar. Soon the H&H became the undisputed no 1 pub in Bury and a deserved regular in the GBG. Fast forward several years, and Andy & Lynn departed for fresh fields.

Without them the pub quickly slid back into its old ways and went through a succession of lacklustre managers. Then, A&L make a welcome (some would say inevitable), return. Soon there are 10 handpumps dispensing many wonderous ales, which means I can forgive Andy being from Yorkshire AND a LIverpool fan. The pub recently had a refurb and looks all the better for it. The "Dogs" usually requires a session on its own, but with a promised meet later, 4 pints was the limit today. Ulverston Stout Ollie (4.3%) was a good starter. Rather light in body for a beer of this type, it nevertheless delivered an easy-drinking mix of roast and bitter chocolate. Equally good was the Roosters YPA, but even better was Phoenix Spotland Gold, which had sublime hoppy tones. Also top notch was Durham (always good beers) White Amarillo.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Smithfield Hotel

The Smithfield has also been described by Tandleman in his beer blog, and is indeed a Manchester drinking institution. Tonight it was the landlord's birthday do and the usually drab tables were adorned with crisp white tablecloths. A good mix of 60's music and quality beers ensured that a good night was had by all. Taking a conservative stand at this time of night, I stuck with Roosters White Rose and Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, both of which were excellent.

The English Lounge

The English Lounge (www.englishlounge.co.uk/) is on Manchester High Street and is part of the so called N/4. Once an Hogshead, it's now a smart, two storey, pub that sells itself as a dining establishment. The beer range has vastly improved over time and there are usually several cask beers on offer. However, tonight it was busier than usual (some sort of do on), and the range of beers was severely curtailed. However, the Hobgoblin sampled was on good form, and although this isn't my favourite beer, it was pleasant enough.
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The Crescent

The Crescent is just up the road from the New Oxford, or is the New Ox just down from the Crescent-well it all depends on you're perspective. Either way, the Crescent has been on the drinking map of Manchester for a long time now. Ably run for many years by Ida and Sal, it is now under new management. Fears that standards would drop have been unfounded, and the quality and range of beers is good. The pub itself was described by Tandleman (http://tandlemanbeerblog.blogspot.com/) as being down at heel and lacking vibrancy. That's probably fair as it could do with a lick of paint, and can be quiet outside peak times-ie sat afternoon-unless there is a festival on, when it can be packed. Anyway I prefer it that way, and if you have two pissheads, sorry beer connoisseurs, with you, you create your own atmosphere. Today, I tried Hydes Harem Scarem (slightly malty sweetness), Roosters Spercial (very pleasant), and Beowulf Chiller (light and crisp hop) which was the best of the bunch.

The New Oxford


The New Oxford (www.thenewoxford.co.uk/), is tucked away in Bexley Square, Salford. Light and airy in the modern bar style, it consists of two rooms and 10 handpumps. Landlord Tin has steadily built up the trade, until today it is one of the must visit pubs of Manchester. Particularly popular with scoopers, there are regular beer festivals where you need to get in early to grab a seat. It's also a good place to catch all the Man Utd games, but honestly thats not the reason for it being my Manc local. It's the mix of good beer (and food), and the relaxed atmosphere. Oh, and then there's the incredibly cheap jukebox-every chart hit since 1952. Today it didn't disappoint either, with the best on offer being the Marston Moor Homeward Bound, which was light with a crisp hop finish. One pint led to four, so it must have been good. Also tried was Blakemere Tasty Blonde which would have been (tasty that is) if not for some diacytol in the finish.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Trackside

On top form again. Busier than usual, as you would expect at weekends, there were several that cried out to be sampled. Bradfield (www.bradfieldbrewery.com/) can usually be relied upon, and their 4% Farmers Blonde was full of citrus refreshment. Even better was Millstone Grainstorm (4.2%) which had a full hop aroma, with pine thrown into the citrus mix. As with all their beers, it had a long dey finish. So good I didn't need to go on to the cider!

The Clarence Hotel













The Clarence is situated on the corner of Silver Street, Bury. Now officially called the Duke of Clarence to try and posh it up, it will always be the "Clari" to its regulars. Silver St is at the heart of Bury town centre, which itself not being large, means that the Clarence sits on the corner of the rat run (or should that be rat trap?), for the weekend bingers. Possibly this is where the problem lies-it doesn't need to try too hard. Originally it was a tied house of Vaux, the Sunderland brewer that shamelessly sold out and then proceeded to disappear up its own arse. In those days it boasted a large upstairs room where many a teenager surreptiously topped up their Samson bitter with a cheaply bought can. After Vaux folded, it went keg and cask ale has only made fleeting appearances since.

It now consists of a single room with a bar at one end and a fireplace at the other. There is also a raised drinking area that is now (stupidly), taken up by a pool table. Beer choice is poor. Apart from a lack of cask, there is no decent bottled selection, with Becks being as adventurous as it gets. Ok, it's got scantily clad girls doing karaoke on a Sat night, but apart from that, its not got much going for it. Some of the clientele (who are old enough to know better), actually spend the whole evening there. I can only hope it's the karaoke girls that's the attraction, otherwise they need to get a life. By no means the worst in Bury, but it could do much better

Friday, 8 February 2008

The Good Samaritan

The Good Sam is on Peel Brow, Ramsbottom. It's part of the famous Rammy Mile, with the two best pubs (here and the Hare & Hounds), being either end of the crawl. They both just happen to be my local-starnge that, eh? The Sam consists of a front room and a back room that use to house a pool table before the present landlord got rid, as it was only attracting scrotes. Roger, the present landlord, turned the fortunes of the pub round and made it the cracking local it is today. A good mix of regulars are always on hand for a chat, and you know when the firemen are in-you can't get to the bar! Beer wise, Roger has built the range up to 5 real ales. Lees Bitter is always on, as is the sublime Copper Dragon Golen Pippin. Out of the 3 guests, one is always a dark beer and Bank Top beers are always popular with the locals. On this occasion, despite being tempted by the Bowland Stout, I stuck with the Pippin and wasn't disappointed. It was clean, crisp and very, very, refreshing.

The Sam is easily accessed by the 472/474 buses from Bury, or for that special occasion, you could travel on the ELR which stops nearby.

The Duckworth Arms













The Duckworth Arms is on Whalley Road, Shuttleworth, approx 5 miles out of Bury town centre. It's a large, roadside, pub that once was a Brewers Fayre clone. Recently acquired by JW Lees (www.jwlees.co.uk/), the Middleton based family brewer. It has been spruced up quite nicely with pictures depicting the history of Lees throughout. Very much a dining pub, it's all tables and chairs, apart from a kind of waiting seated area near the entrance. To be fair, there isn't any reason why you couldn't just have a drink, but it's hard to imagine having a session there. You know the ambience they are aiming for when they serve you with napkins for beer mats-although I did spy some of the genuine article on the bar. It sells Lees Bitter at £2 a pint and their seasonal at £2.10. We were surprised (and delighted), to find Plum Pudding as the seasonal offering, christmas being only a dim memory now. This is easily the best of Lees beers and it did not disappoint here. The 4.8% strength gave it a good body, with the mix of Styrian Goldings and ripe fruit making it unlike other Lees beers and rather drinkable. It was with some reluctance (my companion was driving) that we moved on.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Robert Peel

This failed to deliver a decent pint yet again, forcing me to end the evening on Laphroaig. Still, at less than £3 for a double, it was not a hardship. The South African student barman was very friendly though and (according to the ladies), very hunky.

Hamers Arms


Across the street from the Footballers, is the Hamers Arms. This was refurbished last year and is now a comfortable, smart, pub that offers some reasonable grub. It has a large beer garden for the summer months and nicely complements the Footballers. Sadly the beer range is pubco restricted and tends to favour dross like Greede King. Still, three handpumps are available and the Theakstons I had was fine.

The Footballers Inn













The Footballers Inn is situated in the village of Summerseat which is 3 miles from the centre of Bury. Regular buses are only 8 mins walk away. The pub itself was, for many years, a Whitbread house, but now belongs to Enterprise. Basically one room divided into separate drinking areas, it is very popular with locals and walkers alike. Since Ged & Jo took over several years ago, it has improved immeasurably and now boasts 6 real ales. On this visit I tried Barnsley Bitter, Hydes Original and Taylors Landlord. All were very good, with the Landlord being in particularly good form-you do forget how good it can still be. Not much use at this time of year but there are some great views from the back garden. Friendly and efficient staff complement the pub's other features making it well worthy of its Good Beer Guide entry. For those interested in that kind of thing, the barmaids aren't too bad either and last year did a charity calendar. In fact, Tyson knows one well known Bury mongrel who has not yet got past Miss December!




Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The Trackside














The Trackside is located in the centre of Bury, less than five minutes walk from the travel interchange. Getting its name from the fact it is on the platform of the East Lancs Railway (http://east-lancs-rly.co.uk/), it is naturally popular with trainspotters and their ilk. However, the plus side is, although centrally placed, because of its location, it's not on the rat run of the alcopop/fosters minions. Known to aficionados as the Railside, it's Bury town centre's only free house and offers a wide selction of cask ale (& cider), and foreign bottled beers. Regulars to look out for include Mick, Nazi Dean and, if you're unlucky, Scrounging Bernard.

Inside consists of one rectangular room with a door leading to the rail platform and the outside toliets. Food is served lunchtimes only and is of the cheap and cheerful kind. At one time, the table nearest the bar was known as "Smokers Corner" . Here Fagash Lil' would hold court with her nicotine cronies whilst attempting the Sun crossword. Since their banishment to the platform, things have improved and one no longer has to face, smelly, overflowing ashtrays. However, the sticky table syndrome persists and the ELR could do with lavishing some TLC on their golden goose.

But what of the beer, you may ask? Luckily its mostly in very good nick. Service can vary as some of the staff aren't the brightest bulbs in the box, but "Streaker" Dean tries to keep things on an even keel. On this occasion, choice and quality were both excellent despite Dean's absence through illness. The best of the bunch was Millstone Tiger Rut, which delivered a zesty, citrus hop and a good dry finish. I had sampled this beer several days ago, when it was, perhaps, a little green.-no such problem now. Oddest of the other's sampled was Blakemere's Snowy Owl. This, despite, being a pale gold beer, lacked the qualities I associate with blond ales. There was no crsipness and a burnt maltiness lingered that forced my companion to leave his. I didn't think it was that bad, but Northern/Blakemere will be going in the ref's book with a yellow card.
All in all, a very satisfactory session that backs the Trackside's status as one of the best pubs in Bury.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The Robert Peel















The Robert Peel is in the centre of Bury, Lancashire. Bury is in the Northwest of England and use to be famous for cotton and paper mills. Now it's famous for its black puddings and the outdoor market, although the local football team-the Shakers, still hold the FA Cup record for the highest scoring final. Robert Peel is a famous son of the town and this JDW (www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/index.php) pub is named after him. I'm not sure he would be impressed. Unlike some of their more elegant conversions, this was neither a bank or a theatre. At one time it was a ladies toilet, and some would say, it still has the ambience of one.

In days of old, the better half of the pub was given over to the nicotine addicts, bizarrely giving them the choice window seat views. Mondays were particularly bad with Monday Club deadbeats huddled over their cheap Guiness and Fosters, lost in a seafog of smoke. However, since the smoking ban, things have improved and families are now to be found in this once forbidden zone. As a pub, it suffers from many of the ills that seem to befall the Northern half od the JDW empire. Service is slow, choice is usually limited, staff training seems non-existant and tables are slow to be cleared. Why then go in? Well, just occasionally, a good beer materialises as from the ether, only to then tantalisingly disappear. Hence, we continue to chase the dream of that great pint of JHB at £1.49.

So it is I find myself once more living out the words of Robert Louis Stevenson-"to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive", as I survey the bar. At first, choice seems reasonable, but closer inspection soons reveals the truth. Two beers are from Old Bear Brewery (www.oldbearbrewery.co.uk/index.htm), Bruin and Original. These beers aren't great at the best of times, and in the hands of the Peel's expert team, they are definitely below par. Never mind, Bank Top beers(www.banktopbrewery.com/) are a safe bet. Unfortunately, the Gold Digger was more like mud than gold. That left one beer-Northern (www.norbrew.co.uk/) Dreamcatcher. Now I can't say there was anything actually wrong with this beer in terms of serving quality. However, it seemed that this 3.9% beer fell between two stools. Neither a Mild or a Bitter, but with some of the roast associated with stronger beers. Without the added alcohol to give it body, this left a one dimensional beer, with an unpleasant gritty taste. Maybe just another case of a micro failing to deliver, but yet another strike-out at the Robert Peel.

Maybe one day. Maybe...