About Me

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Manchester, United Kingdom
Tyson is a beer hound and cheese addict living in the beery metropolis paradise known as Manchester
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Hi Ho Silver Lining

It was nice and quiet in Manchester’s pubs today. The lull before the New Year storm? Or were people busy throwing themselves at the so-called sales? I say so-called because you can guarantee if there’s 75% off it, it’s bound to be tat that the shop wants rid of. Is beer discounted? Is Cheese? Or toilet roll for that matter? No. So my weekly outgoings remain completely unaffected by the sales frenzy.

Anyway, whatever the reason, apart from a lack of daytime customers, the pubs seemed to be suffering from a little lack of choice. Probably not geared up for tomorrow night yet, but still annoying. The first stop-the Marble Arch is usually reliable, but today half the pumps were turned round. They would be pulling some through, but beer and tide wait for no man, so after some JP Best, it was time to move on.

The English Lounge only had 2 beers on, but both the Cumberland and the Landlord were in decent form. No real ale at all at Odd, but Pennine Ales White Owl and Bank Top were both on at the Crown & Kettle. No sign of cask at Cask-it was Kwak for me, whilst the Bank was also depleted but delivered a surprisingly light hued Polar Bear. Best beer of the day, however, was found at the Waterhouse-Phoenix Snowbound-beautifully crisp and hoppy.

The sun had long since set when I heard some old fogey Camra types were about to drag their Zimmer frames to Manchester. All those people do is talk about beer-who wants to do that? Anyway, as I had drinking business elsewhere, I set sail for a port nearer home. First up was the Whitchaff at Townsend. This was very busy with most people seemingly here to dine. I tried both of the real ales on offer-Old Stockport and Hartley’s XB before getting the bus back into Ramsbottom.

Unlike Manchester, Rammy was doing well with people getting an early start on the New Year festivities. I squeezed into the First Chop only to be told there was no keg lager available as the cooler was knackered. Oh no. In despair I turned to the cask offerings of Flat Cap and Outstanding Ginger. The Major was even busier with both a quiz and the football attracting attention. The plan was to move on, but we never did. Was it the lure of the Golden Pippin? Or the close proximity of a scantily clad 32D? I guess we’ll never know.

Don't Call Us

Former glamour totty, Linda Lusardi, is in the news again. Yesterday she got a roasting for dialling 999 unnecessarily-she was running late for her panto and wanted permission to use the hard shoulder. Today, far from being repentant, she claimed she was right, as she was brought up to believe you “phoned the police if you needed help.” Let’s be fair here-she did ask permission and she’s still got great cheekbones. Still, this is clearly not an emergency and does not warrant ringing 999. Look at me, when faced with a true emergency-the Towler running out of Golden Pippin, I’ve shown remarkable restraint in not calling for assistance. And so should Linda. After all, everyone knows that 999 is only for when you catch the landlord pouring the dregs back into the Mild.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Sign 'O' the Times

So the dust has settled on the recent Orchid pubs fiasco. The latest in a series of capitalistic crisises which would have had old Marxie chuckling, this was more worrying as it concerned pubs, not banks etc. Seems they’ve done a “Cains” and bought most of their own pubs back. Now if I did anything as shady, I could expect a call from the boys in blue. In their game, you can call it “financial restructuring” and get away with it. This upheaval has caused problems at the Shovels in Blackpool, but luckily, local outlets such as the Hare & Hounds have continued to trade normally. Orchid blamed their problems on “the smoking ban” (yawn), and the “downturn in consumer spending.” And theirs me thinking it was all that debt they saddled the company with...

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Control The Juke Box, Control The Pub

Another Saturday, another party. This time in the posh part of Radcliffe. Yes, there really is such a thing. Although usually the lure of free beer guarantees our early attendance, today we were a bit tardy. As the bus passes the New Inn, a pub I’d been hearing about for some time, we decided to take a little detour. Originally a Bass house, it had been for many, many years, something of notorious dive. Very dimly lit and downright dirty, it featured a hardcore of regulars who didn’t take too kindly to visitors. Not that you would want to visit, as the single-bulb bar only offered Guinness and warm lager.

However, word kept getting back to me that it has been done up and that handpumps could be seem through the windows. Indeed they could and it certainly was looking much better. Cleaned up and opened out, the windows were letting in a lot of natural light. And, most importantly, cask was back on the bar courtesy of Moorhouses. Premier was selling well-no doubt a result of the £1.95 a pint price tag, whilst Witch Hunt was faring less well at £2.36 a go. Quietly impressed, we stayed for a couple. A hot topic at the bar was why don’t we eat horses in Britain, as they do In France? Of course, French cuisine is one big con-give it a fancy name and our cross channel comrades will eat any old shite, but that’s another story. What I didn’t realise was that King Arthur had something to with it-you live and learn.

However, free beer doesn’t get drunk by itself (or does it?) and so we braved the cold once more. The party itself was an exclusive affair, relying more on quality than quantity. Phoenix Spotland Gold was the poison of choice and once I had the sparkler in place, we were ready to rock. The beer was good, as was the homemade chilli. Progress was good, with the firkin emptied shortly after 2000 hrs. I made that about a gallon or so each, although some people drank less and some people more.

Too early to retire, we were soon corralled once more in the New Inn. Here we were soon involved in a juke box war-not surprising at only 10p a tune- as we were taught the wisdom of the maxim “ control the juke box, control the pub.” Despite Pineapple Pete’s attempt at killing the party atmosphere with his selection of “Shut Up A Ya Face” a good time was had by all. Reluctantly the post midnight bus signalled the end of our festivities, but no doubt, like MacArthur, we shall return.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Boxing Day Bus Blues

Far from being a joyful time of year, Christmas is actually the most stressful time of year. December sees the highest rate of suicides and a boom in calls to the Samaritans. Whilst in January we can expect a sharp rise in domestic violence and the breakdown of many relationships, after the forced jollity of the so-called festive season. You also get a spike of violent crime. But this year, it looked like being an unusually peaceful Crimbo. But, hark, the BBC doth sing. We’ve got two stabbings yesterday in Tandleman Turf (Middleton) and a double homicide in Blackpool on Christmas Eve. My faith in humanity (and sociological patterns of behaviour) is restored.

Boxing Day and the start of Kwanzaa. Two good reasons to party. Unfortunately, due to the Middle Ages approach of British transport, options are somewhat limited. Everyone’s moaning about the lack of trains, but I would settle for a bus. However, this is where my cunning plan to be within walking distance of several pubs and the Metrolink, comes into its own. But first there was the little matter of the afternoon match. A brisk walk took me to the Knowsley and a cosy corner spot. Now, Greene King don’t often get praised, so let me express my appreciation. One side effect of selling turgid beer is that it kills the appetite. Meaning one can spend time in their pubs and remain totally sober. Saving money and capacity for some real real ale. I salute you, GK.

Having seen the Reds ease past the Potters, it was time to make tracks for the Metrolink (geddit?) and the joys of Manchester. The Marble proved hard to leave, with the usual mix of their own hoppy delights and an interesting beer from Burton Bridge. Well the beer was amber and malty (sigh), but the pumpclip was excellent. Featuring the great Fred Dibnah, it commemorates an event 25 years ago, when George, a ginger tom, had to be rescued from a mill chimney before Fred did his thing. Down at the Waterhouse, Springhead St Nick’s Porter proved strange. A little thin for a Porter, it had roast flavours but no real complexity to recommend it. Bateman’s Salem Porter was much better, with notes of plums, coffee and chocolate. I just had time to squeeze a Brakspear Bitter in at the City before heading home and my appointment with a curry.

Fully curried up, it was time to risk the Peel. Here there were some terrible Northern & Blakemere beers on-phenol on acid, but luckily the Outstanding Standing Out was ok. Then it was time to put Elton Cabs to the test. They’d advertised normal rates over Christmas, but, having been stung on Christmas Eve, I was a little wary. However, I’m happy to say they delivered on their promise-well done, lads.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Do They know It's Christmas?

Well I’ve got the laptop working and here we all are in Wetherspoons. The place is looking surprisingly clean and the staff have never been so attentive. It’s either the festive spirit or the expectation of large tips. Some chance with the disparate group assembled here. It’s a mix of the sad, the lonely, and the grateful drinker who’s killing time before the dreaded family get together. There’s a coAdd Imageuple eating their Christmas lunch in complete silence, and a guy tucked in the corner nursing a pint of Fosters. Actually he was here before me-doesn’t he know the Crimbo rules-get as much down your neck before they throw you out.

Beer wise, we’ve got some dodgy 3 Rivers, and (no surprise) Allgates. Luckily the Outstanding Ginger is ok and we’ve been alternating it with some single malts. We can only wistfully think of what might have been if the bosses at the ELR weren’t such scrooges. Seems the staff at the Trackside were willing to work (unpaid) today so that the regulars could enjoy a few drinks. However, the miserable toads who run the ELR (the Trackside’s owners) didn’t want to know. Letting people enjoy themselves? Unimaginable! To them it’s just a money making machine. It’s enough to drive you to drink.

Anyway, Merry Christmas. And may your camel spit nothing but dates.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time

What idiot said it’s best to prepare food drunk? How many times have I said on this blog that that is the worst thing you could do. Everyone knows I live by that mantra. If only Eddie, the eager, legal beagle, had listened to my warnings. He turned up today missing a portion of his thumb. Seems it’s not such a good idea to slice and dice when pissed. How many times do I need to say it before people will learn?

Christmas Eve at the Trackside. The seeming improvement in Piston & Broke became clear. Seems it was really Derwent Christmas Lights-the pumpclip was on the wrong pump. The real Piston & Broke was as grim as we remembered it on Saturday. A much safer bet was the Phoenix Snowbound which remained the poison of choice till closing time. Then it was a Pizza Pioneer special before checking everything was ready for tomorrow. The laptop is charged and with fingers crossed, I shall be blogging live from the pub on Christmas Day. Tidy.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Another day. Another Christmas do. Well, two technically. Definite déjà vu today. The last working day for many was the perfect excuse for those canny drinkers who knew last Friday would be busy everywhere. So it was we had an early lunch kickoff in the Trackside. Not too many on yet and what there was tended to be dark and strong.

First out of the hat was Ossett Treacle Stout. This was very rich, with liquorice coming through first, followed by the inevitable treacle. But not too much to overbalance it. Still, not really to my palate. Wickwar was next with Old Arnold. This was also dark, but not as sweet, with some fruit in the mix. Phoenix Navvy is usually a friend, but seemed a bit tired and lacked its usual hop bite.

There followed a (very slow), crawl of Bury until, seemingly inevitably, once more I found myself stuck in the Knowsley. Apparently “it’s convenient for the bus station.” Hmmm. After forking out £2.75 for the St Edmunds, I decided I wasn’t paying over the odds for that rubbish again, so went on orange juice instead. Which turned out to be a wise move, as it kept me in the game for later.

For just as things were winding up, I received a message from Eddie, the eager, legal beagle. He’d finished work and wanted to discuss the impact of existentialism on the paintings of Willem De Kooning. Really I should have gone home and saved myself for tomorrow. But...who can resist the chance to discuss the work of De Kooning? Not me. So it was back to the Trackside.

Luckily the board had been filled up in my absence. Coach House Credit Crunch (3.4%) was listed as a no 1 in colour, so I was expecting a light Mild. Seems Robinsons (they can’t distinguish gold from copper), aren’t the only colour blind people around. For the record, Credit Crunch is dark copper in colour (No 3 on the scale) and easy going, if a little thin. However, Ossett Silver Link was light and very palatable. We had to try Piston & Broke again, as it was fresh on. Some of Saturday’s impressions proved correct. It is a strange beer-citrus notes followed by sourness, with a dry finish. However, it seemed to (just), about carry it off.

As we know, time and tide waits for no man. How true, as Eddie soon discovered. Now he and the Manx Minx are always in constant communication-him telling her how much he loves her smoked kippers, she full of adoration for his tweed underpants. But as the night drew to a close, her last call had more of an admonishment tone. Seems Eddie was in the doghouse. The in-laws were due tomorrow and he was supposed to be cooking French onion soup and preparing potted crab. Not covorting in the Railside. I don’t know exactly what was said, but I think castration was mentioned. He got the message anyway and bounded off home to do his Jamie Oliver duties.

Personally, I can’t see the problem. Everyone knows the best way to prepare food is to get pissed first. That’s a well known fact.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Another day. Another Christmas do. Another blonde-although it was a bloke this time. There’s no rest for the wicked. Two fellow bloggers and part-time beerhounds were visiting the great metropolis. Could I meet them for a drink? Of course it meant giving up my Sunday drinking to go, er, drinking. So once more I made the ultimate sacrifice for Queen and country.

We met up at Sinclairs where I played it safe with Old Brewery, whilst my guests experimented with the excellent bottled range. The Triangle shopping complex isn’t my natural habitat-there being nothing to recommend it apart from perhaps Zizzi and Pizza Express. However, I happened to mention to Apiarist that it also hosts top lingerie shop Bravissimo. This was enough to warrant a detour-well he does write a sex blog. With his curiosity satisfied, we moved onto Tiger Tiger. 7 bars on 4 floors and not a drop of real ale to be had. After my usual formal complaint, we got stuck in.

I was outvoted on not going French and out first conquest was Petit Chablis Prieure St Come. This wasn’t too shabby, being refreshingly citrus in tone and a not unpleasant mineral finish. I was less happy with the Rioja Cosecha Saigoba-fruit and coffee flavours-whose idea was that? Colombard Ugni Blanc was much better with a nice, crisp, apple body. Popping our head in at the Wetherspoons, we were surprised to find Titanic Iron Curtain Russian Stout on the bar. Too burnt for me but my companions enjoyed the “chewiness.”
Some solid nourishment was now in order and I took them to one of my favourites-Efes. Even at their Sunday rate of £8.95 their Mediterranean buffet is hard to beat. Somehow I was talked into having the Burton Bridge Staffordshire Knot Brown Ale in the Paramount-a mistake I’ll never repeat. The Britons had to be visited and after an aperitif of Unicorn, it was whisky time. The train was looming for Manchester’s latest converts and hearty goodbyes were exchanged with much hand shaking and back slapping.

A classic day out-I could get use to this drinking lark.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Tonight I'm Going To Party Like Its 1999

Another day. Another Christmas do. But not a blonde in sight. The WHB was throwing a party and we were all invited. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Well not much of the first, although there were strange noises coming from the bedroom later. Actually we were the clean up brigade-I think he’d had his real friends round on Friday, but a beerhound isn’t going to say no to free beer on a Saturday afternoon.

And very good beer it was, as well. Darkstar Expresso Stout is a rich, satisfying stout that definitely does what is says on the label. Compare that with the recent poor offering from Meantime and I think Meantime’s brewers should hang their head in shame. Its stablemate-Darkstar Hophead was also in excellent condition. No need to say anything more about this beer except it lived up to its reputation as one of the greatest session beers around. Naturally both were served as the Good Lord intended-handpulled and with sparkler. For a jest, I tried the Hophead without sparkler. As Tandleman says, condition is everything, and this was proved as the beer was fine without it. However, as everyone knows, the sparkler doesn’t deliver a big head, or mitigate bitterness, but intensifies what can be subtle flavours. In Hophead’s case, it brought grapefruit to the fore, with a resulting fruit explosion in the aftertaste.

Talking of TM, sadly he couldn’t be there to witness this sparkler validation. Indeed, without his sex appeal and the drinking capabilities of the Wallsend Wonder, we were short on heavy hitters. However, we persevered and we had the Hophead drunk by 9pm, with a sizeable dint in the Expresso as well. Although how much of that was left after Archimedes had finished his “quality testing” yesterday, is anyone’s guess. It was a good time to leave anyway as pint pots were beginning to get weary. I wanted to go home, but Eddie, the eager, legal beagle convinced me that the cure was more beer. I begged him, but he insisted we call in at the Trackside. Here we tried the new house beer-Piston Broke. This is a 3.9% offering from Outstanding. And rather strange it was too. Light in colour, it weighed in much stronger than it really was, with a sour bitterness that wasn’t very appealing. Cottage Whippet Clause was phenolic-another no goer. With Darkstar proving so hard to follow, we drowned our sorrows in a series of Jevers. Finally, when the last bell had tolled, Eddie let us leave. One chip muffin later and it was a slow weave home.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Another day. Another Christmas do. Another blonde. I could get used to dining out with the glamorous jet set. But where to take a slinky sex kitten for lunch? Prague? Paris? It was a close call, but Ramsbottom just edged it. We decided to try the First Chop and put Rick to the test. The lady dallied with Wainwrights and I tried out Hydes seasonal-Rockin’ Robin (4.6%) which proved to be pleasantly seasonal.

We opted for some of the Lancashire tapas. One advantage of lunching with these model types is they don’t eat very much. So whilst she licked the breadcrumbs off her fishcake, I could tuck into the rather delightful Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Rarebit. Suitably nourished we moved on to the Hare & Hounds where we sampled Hart Snowella and Outlaw Wild Mule. Being the last Friday before Christmas, the pub was getting busy with people on work outings and a chance for an early start to the weekend festivities.

As it lashed down outside, the svelte eye-candy leaned in closer. Our eyes met and I could see desire in her eyes. Definite desire. She wanted me. Yes, she wanted me to get her another Outlaw Wild Mule. Well, it is a great beer for the driver, being hoppy but low in volume. I settled for Hart’s No Balls (what would Freud have said), which was easy going if not too distinctive. A nice outing but all too soon, I was back at home. Bearing in mind the weather conditions, and tomorrow’s party, I decided to stay in and open one of my Christmas presents. From me to me with love-a 1991 Lagavulin. Bitingly smokey to begin, the sherry casks are felt in the bitter-sweet finish. A good start to the weekend.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Madness They Call It Madness

Another day, another Christmas do. Slightly under the weather from yesterday’s excesses-note to self, eat, I bravely struggled on. Manchester was the city; Abode (a rather a la mode hotel) was the venue. Leaving my flat cap at the door, I sensed this wasn’t a place that would serve Dark Mild. Lunch consisted of vegetable soup, Ravioli of goats’ cheese and basil and some wild mushroom risotto. And cheese, of course, to finish. The place was busy-no sign of the credit crunch here and people were busy pouring copious amounts of booze down their neck. Eager not to be left behind, I dived in headfirst.

Betty Blue (once blonde, now brunette) explained that, unusually, the wines were ordered by grape type, not country. Hence, we kicked off with a powerful red-Aresti Estates Carmenere, from Chile. This was very rich, with heavy cherry notes and a peppery finish. No sooner had this disappeared than its French replacement appeared, as if by magic. Chateau Davide Bordeaux Superiore. I think this was Merlot in nature-not really to my taste but chacun ses gouts as we say in Bury. Seems Flaps McGraw (once blonde, now brunette) visits France a lot with hubby no 3. Apparently for her last birthday, they got a holiday home there.

My choice next. I celebrated my love for Italy with Le Vele Verdichhio Dei Castelli Jesi (I think!) which was beautifully fruity and went down all too quickly. At some point the champagne flutes came out, as did the brandy. All this drinking can make you thirsty, so a mini crawl for the hardy, or foolhardy, was proposed. I think I had Lomond Gold in the Waterhouse before being accosted by Groping Gail. Living up to her nickname she cornered me for the full Xmas snog. Seems she’s ditched Mr Not So Right and had a boob job to celebrate. Did I want to go back to her boudoir and road test them? A lovely offer, in keeping with the season, but being a gentleman I naturally declined. Well I was late for my rendezvous to see Madness, anyway.

A quick dash got me to the concert in time, but sadly they were rather disappointing. I think a lot of the audience had also been on the sauce and were geared up for some serious sing-along action. However, the band were premiering their new album, so not enough of the familiar hits to keep most people happy. Still, noisy enough to stop me from falling asleep. Which is the main thing after a day on the pop.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Once More Unto The Breach

A few pints with some visiting Camra types was proving disappointing. the Peel was poor, the ropey Two Tubs proved ropey, and the Greene King was turgid. Only the Holts in Wyldes was decent, so I was looking forward to a quick exit. Alas it was not to be. No sooner had I seen them safely to the bus station than I receive a plea from Eddie, the eager, legal beagle. Apparently he wanted some advice on guinea pig grooming. Cleaning their grease gland can be tricky, so I was glad to help.

We kicked off in the Trackside. Slater’s CRB (3.8%) was light and had a decent bitter kick for its modest volume. Deciding to spread our wings we headed up to the Hare & Hounds. Some interesting beers on including Hart-those of the terribly sexist pumpclips that make Eddie physically sick. Spurning their offering, and that of Purple Moose-despite their seasonal pumpclip, we settled for George Wright Three French Hens. This was exceedingly pale (0.5 on the colour scale) with very good condition and a pleasing fruity/bitter finish.
Next stop was the ever reliable Major. Here we sampled Hawkshead Red (4.2%) which like all their beers was very palatable. A traditional red bitter, it had just the right balance of bitter-sweet malt and spices, leading to a pleasing dry finish. A good winter beer I think. Over at the First Chop, we had a chat with Rick, the proprietor whilst we tackled some Wainwrights. Fancying a change we headed for the Royal Legion in expectation of some Hydes. But what’s this? Hydes has been replaced by that king of clubland-Lees. Yes, Tandleman’s favourite tipple has conquered another account in Ramsbottom. And to be fair, it wasn’t in bad nick-for Lees.

Our final stop was at the Good Sam. This was eerily quiet with not a soul in. And nobody came in the whole time we were there. Usually this doesn’t bode well for a pub, but the Sam continues to surprise with the beer in excellent form. Deuchars has replaced the poor selling Theakstons, but the big sellers remain Copper Dragon and...Lees. Blimey those Middleton brewers get everywhere. The landlord quickly exchanged Eddie’s pint after noticing it was cloudy, explaining that he had just put a fresh barrel on. It seemed a waste judging by the level of custom, but we weren’t complaining. The Golden Pippin was as good as I’ve had it, with plenty of tangy hop bitterness, and an exquisite dry finish. There was no shifting us then and all we had to do was await the last bus. Handily (when you’ve had a few), it stops right at the door, so for once getting home proved very easy.

Let Them Eat Cheese

Ah, to be Italian right now. Seems they’ve got a government who knows where their priorities should lie. Contrast them with the English, Chaplinesque, bunglers of prohibitionist Nu-Labour. Over here, the government rewards incompetent, greedy bankers, whilst simultaneously beating the poor drinker over the head with a blunt object. There’s no money to offer relief for struggling pubs, but there’s billions to waste on white elephants such as ID cards. Now take a look at our Mediterranean cousins. They know where their bread is buttered. Or where their cheese is toasted, anyway.

Yes the Italians are bailing out their cheese industry. Parmigiano Reggiano, Italy's King of Cheese, is apparently in trouble. Consumption has fallen, just as costs have soared. As a result, almost a third of craft cheese producers now face bankruptcy. Riding to the rescue of cheese lovers everywhere, the Italians plan to buy around 3% of Parmesan production, at a cost of some £44 million. This equates to 100,000 35Kg wheels of Parmesan. They also intend to buy the same amount of Grana Padano. And what are they going to do with all this cheese? Distribute it to the poor and needy. Free Parmesan! Ah, to be Italian right now.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Dr Who In Government Propaganda Shock

London can be shocking. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the shock I received there. The advert on the flickering big screen shows alcohol, so naturally I tune in. Some guy is enjoying a pint and then a glass of wine at home. At last, I think, an advert extolling the virtues of drink. But hold on, what’s those numbers on the screen? And then we get the dick-kicker. In a voiceover suspiciously sounding like the eighth Doctor (I always said he was pants), we get “Did you know that if men regularly exceed 3-4 units a day, it could add up to a serious health problem.”

What??? This is wrong on so many levels. Apart from the use of the discredited units system, what do they mean by “exceed?” 5 units, 6 units? And who says so? Er, nobody it seems. The nice lady at the Department of Health I spoke to couldn’t furnish me with the research this is based on. Not surprising, as it’s probably been concocted at the Ministry of Bullshit & Balderdash. This is pure scaremongering at its worst. As I’ve pointed out in my complaint to Ofcom, next they’ll be expecting us to believe that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction...

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Wisdom Of Solomon

Sunday lunchtime in Ramsbottom. A walk round the Farmers’ Market (Tomato & garlic Bread, blueberry pie and various chutneys), proved so exhausting that the only remedy was drink. Well it would have been rude to say no.

Down at the Hare & Hounds, I kicked off with George Wright Partridge In A Pear Tree. Nice and lively, this strong (5.1%) pale beer promised much. Unfortunately, probably not one of their best, being rather unbalanced with too much sweetness coming through. Outlaw Vanilla Porter (4.7%) wasn’t quite right either, with the vanilla component outstripping the Porter element, making it rather one-dimensional. A quick sample of the Leyden Christmas Stocking proved it was indeed Leyden. Leyden by name, Leyden by taste.

Back to the pale beers with Hart Snowella. This did have a pleasant floral aroma, but lacked the hops to follow through. Moving up to the Major proved a good move, as Hornbeam Christmas Champagne Beer really delivered. Golden coloured and bursting with complex fruit aromas, this went down quicker than Jonathan Ross’s Xmas bonus. An excellent beer-score one to Hornbeam. Reluctantly dragging myself across the road, I called in at the First Chop. Here I supped Outstanding Ginger and heard tales of Eddie, the eager, legal beagle, and how he had drunk them dry last night. God, I hate people who don’t know when to quit-you won’t catch me doing that.

Final stop was the reopened Grants Arms. Here, sat with my Moorhouses Premier, I was asked to settle a heated philosophical debate. Pub arguments can require the wisdom of Solomon-for instance, is Noam Chomsky correct in his interpretation of Plato’s Problem? What is the meaning of life? Or, in this particular case, who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Iron Man? Clearly, Iron Man, but Spiderman is way cooler. Having brought peace to two restless souls, I could retire home happy. Or at least as far as the Towler, where the lure of Golden Pippin proved just too much.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Laughing On The Outside (Crying On The Inside)

An early start was a good excuse for breakfast at the Peel, complemented by a pint of White Horse Epona. This 4.3% proved to be yet another so-so brown beer. White Horse seem to revel in producing average beers-not terrible but so dull as to be sold as a cure for insomnia. Not a good start, but despite the weather I set off in good heart.

Even more rain in Manchester-if it’s not careful it will get a reputation for wetness. This combined with the usual Friday Christmas crowds meant everywhere was more or less packed. Having fought a brave, but weary, campaign through several of Manchester’s hostelries, I was relieved when I arrived at my final destination. The New Oxford in Salford was having one of their celebrated beer festivals and what better time to take advantage of the seasons greetings?

The pub was already understandably busy, with the Scooper contingent holding court in the front. I thought they must have been sniffing the panda bottles again as they seemed unduly agitated. Turns out it was a friendly, if heated, dispute over a dubious tick. Eventually securing a seat, my first thoughts were food, as the afternoon’s beer needed settling before we went into round 2. I spotted my benchmark-cheese & onion pie-and promptly ordered. However, it looked as if my pie voodoo had struck again when the barman informed me it was unavailable. With no likely substitute on the horizon, things were looking bleak.

But the chef proved to be a white knight and offered to make one there and then-if I could wait? It would have been rude to refuse and the finished product was worth the wait. Beautifully light pastry, with a delicate balance of cheese & onion put this pie in the first division, leapfrogging the Pack Horse at Affetside in the process. Served with proper chips, all for just a £5, this was a treat indeed. The gang was all here by now and the serious business of drinking could begin properly.

As usual it was a tale of the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Hoggleys Saturnalla (4.5%) looked safe in being crowned the worst beer-it was pretty awful, but it was wiped out by the offering by Wyre Piddle. Now, Wyre do have a reputation for being a bit, er, shite, but they outdid themselves with Wee (ho, ho) Three Kings. This 5% was pure TCP and should never have left the brewery. I had a horrible flashback to St Patrick’s Day and Cherwell’s Crospredy Bridge. Surely Tim (the landlord) doesn’t always ask for a TCP beer?

Strangely indifferent was the Saltaire, whilst suitably spicy for Christmas was Maypole Butt Warmer. As usual the established breweries delivered, Glentworth’s Festive Fun was light and delicately hopped, while their Citrus Lite had an unmistakable lemon kick. Elland Emperor (5.2%) his its strength well under a powerful hop attack, and Blackwater impressed with Jingles Dingles (4%), a crisp, light session beer, with a good dry finish.

Having exhausted all options, we were pondering our next move. Time was getting on, but then Archimedes had a carrot dangled in front of him. Apparently there was a rum beer on in the Kings Arms-I’ve never seen him move so fast. Howard Town Dark Peak (6.4%) is apparently a rum Porter and there was no mistaking its main ingredient. A powerful heady aroma of liquorice and chocolate was followed by spices and, er, rum. Plenty of it. It’s either a complex, brilliant, Christmas brew. Or sickeningly shite.

Time to make the walk back to Victoria and the tram home. I’ve got a suspicion that Archimedes etc had been drinking, as when the tram appeared in the distance only I made the dash for it. Hence I was left to continue my adventures alone. I collared a pizza about 1.30am and headed home to watch Have I Got News For You. My viewing was interrupted by an excited text from Eddie, the eager, legal beagle. He’d arrived back from his own jolly jaunt and was delighted to find Pizza Pioneer still doing the business at 2.20am. I guess great minds really do think alike.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Stella, Stella. My Kingdom For A Pint Of Stella.

The staff at the newly reopened Knowsley are slowly starting to find their feet. Or at least they seem to have worked out how to pour the St Edmund’s. This, of course, is the “trendy” GK beer that is served at 7C and can, gasp, be served Southern style-or properly. Having tried a couple, I’ve come to the conclusion that although this is a fantastic (i.e. bland but drinkable) beer by GK standards, it’s a daft gimmick. It appeals to neither the real ale drinker, nor the lager guzzler. Apparently it’s aimed at the supposedly premium Guinness market. Where people, presumably, choose to drink, er, Guinness. Oh, and yes, I did try it both ways. Northern pour wasn’t any better-I suppose there are things that even the sparkler can’t improve.

There are a few things that still need working on at the Knowsley, though. Like staff training. There was a sign hung over the Stella font proclaiming “Not quite ready.” The barman explained they were waiting for it to settle...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

It will be lonely this xmas. Without you....in Wetherspoons

In a move sure to gladden the heart of Jeff B (AKA Stonch), I note that my local Wetherspoons is open on Xmas day. That's me sorted then. Fa la la la la, la la la la...

Monday, 8 December 2008

A winter's day- in a deep and dark December

A rainy Monday in Manchester-who’d have thought it? Yes unfortunately the day was dark and very wet, but it did provide a good excuse to linger longer in the pubs. The primary reason was a visit to the Christmas continental markets by Lytham John & Moonstruck Maria, but let’s be honest; a drink was always on the cards. Maria was a Manchester virgin (not a phrase you hear often), and it’s always interesting introducing new people to our drinking dens.

We kicked off in Sinclair’s Oysters Bar. This Sam Smiths institution had a few lunchtime stragglers in, and indeed we were joined by our own favourite Manchester straggler-the WHB. I sank a couple of Old Brewery here whilst others toyed with Porter, Organic Cherry Beer, and the like. A pit stop at the German market produced gluhwein-they’d already sold out of wheat beer. No wonder they lost the war.

Next stop was the City Arms on Kennedy Street. Surprisingly busy for that time of day, we squeezed in and sampled Brains Rev James. Literally next door is the Waterhouse where Saltaire Yorkshire Pale proved zesty and very refreshing. Obviously being away from Bury has had an effect on LJ, as he was already struggling with his beer. However, Maria, being a true lady, helped him polish it off-a pattern that soon repeated itself.

The Britons Protection proved popular with both the Unicorn and Cumberland in good nick. As our visitors were catching the train back, we moved down to Knott Bar. As on recent visits, this proved disappointing with Marble Manchester Bitter tasting like wet cardboard. No wonder the place was empty. Much better was our last stop-Cask, on Liverpool Road. Ostensibly we had gone there to sample some of their fine foreign range-ideally Kwak, but Pictish Susan proved so good that we stuck with the locally brewed stuff. Then it was time to escort out guests to the station before slowly winding our own way home.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Going, Going, Gone?

I returned from my London sojourn last week to two pieces of contrasting news. Firstly, on the down side, was the demise of the Brickcroft Tavern on Brook St. This small backstreet pub closed quietly some time ago, but it seems that Thwaites have given up on it, as it’s now all boarded up and a for sale sign hangs outside. A sad end to one of my early haunts. Nicely tucked away from prying eyes, you were always guaranteed a late lock-in. Old Harry Tattersall use to hold court, spinning tales of the good old days when the landlord would only serve light Mild in the taproom-he wanted to avoid “chaos” in the lounge.

Of course the Brickcroft went keg several years ago and then started only opening in the evening. Still it stubbornly held on as the only pub in Freetown, having seen off both the Star and the Bridge. Its future looks bleak, although never say never. Its position at the heart of the knocking shop quarter may tempt a change of use and a new lease of life. That’s what happened to the Golden Fleece on Bell Lane. Bass managed to offload it to Hydes, who struggled with it for years before finally giving up on it. Now it trades as World (nothing like a bit of hyperbole) Famous Babes. Mind you, Knocking Shop Neville says times are tough in the brothel game, so it may it be bye-bye to the Brickcroft for good.

Better news in the centre of town. The Knowsley has reopened after a major refit. This is the closest pub to the travel interchange and has been, for several years, only good for a quick pee before getting your bus or tram. Originally a cosy Whitbread pub selling some decent Boddingtons, it was opened out, and gradually became a place to avoid. More sad than dangerous, though. Greene King eventually took over, although there were no visible changes. Until now. In a move obviously aimed at taking it upmarket, they’ve installed a wrap around bar, moved the toilets upstairs, put plasma screens in, and are heavily pushing food. Rather impressively they open at 7am for breakfast. Although Eddie, the eager, legal beagle is disappointed. His dream of getting tanked up on Old Speckled Hen before going to work and tricking some old lady out of her inheritance has been shattered. They only sell alcohol from 11am-well nowhere is perfect.

Yes, the Knowsley has finally gone cask. An array of pumps seems only currently to be serving OSH and St Edmunds Ale, which at £2.65 has been pricey but indifferent. I’m no fan of Greede Kerching, or their insipid beers, so they won’t be seeing much of me. Except of course when I swallow my pride so I can watch the footie in comfort. It may have to be orange juice, though. It will be interesting to see how successful it is at keeping out its old clientele. It currently has bouncers on the door (front only btw-you can sneak in at the side), on weekend afternoons. Never a good sign to me and one has to wonder how long they will keep this up. One to watch.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Mistletoe And Fine

The festive season is a time for joy and goodwill to all men. Or is it? It appears that the spirit of Scrooge lives on in the guise of Norwich City Council. They’ve written to some 104 hairdressing salons to remind them that they need a licence to sell alcohol. And to ensure that they’re not being naughty, they will be carrying out spot checks. Anyone not in Santa’s good books could face a fine of up to £20,000, or six months in gaol. Obviously the local crimpers are not too happy about this, as all they wanted to do was offer the odd complimentary glass of sherry or wine.

I say bah, humbug. That is a very strict, if not downright miserly, interpretation of “supply” in the 2003 Licensing Act. People wishing to exercise their God given right to access booze should not be hindered by minions of the state. Particularly when they wish to give it away. But do not despair, tong twirlers of Norwich. Remember it’s perfectly legal to have alcohol on the premise for your own consumption. And if a customer should happen to drink the wine you’ve poured for yourself, well, accidents do happen...

Or you could always simply move to Bury, where we positively encourage philanthropic drinking.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Life's A Gas

Flatulence. There I’ve said it. It’s a problem, isn’t it? Picture it; you’re out with the boss, or trying to impress the new girl from typing. You’ve just had that third pint of Boggart’s Old Trumper, and the yeast starts to work its magic. Or maybe it’s your partner who’s bursting to release that Chicken Phaal? After all, it’s an equal opportunity problem. And, of course, it’s even worse for the poor, gassed-up lager drinker.

But never fear. The solution is here. And just in time for Christmas as well. An American (naturally) company have come up with “Subtle Butt”, a pad designed to absorb any unpleasant smells emanating from your underwear. The material slips easily into your pants and, held in place by two self-adhesive strips, contains gas neutralisers made from carbon fibre, preventing any errant odours from escaping. Just what the world has been waiting for.

Watch the video here

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round

You come out of the Manchester Arena after a great night watching the legendary Leonard Cohen. Of course the Metrolink normally finishes at 1030, but they’re obviously running a later service. Aren’t they? After all, they wouldn’t leave thousands of people stranded in (very), cold Manchester, would they? That would be really silly. Er, it appears they would. The slinky, blonde eye-candy isn’t happy-I think her tassels are starting to freeze. Luckily for us there’s a late bus back to Bury. As we pass hordes of revellers facing a scramble for taxis, I can’t help but reflect on the joys of an integrated transport system.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Down In The Wild Garlic Valley

Cold and crisp. Perfect weather conditions for drinking. Logistics were somewhat complicated by the need to avoid the Trackside until late afternoon. The Santa special had started running and who needs people running round screaming and throwing crisps everywhere. And that’s just the parents. So we needed somewhere to drink until it was safe to venture into central Bury. No problem. It was the perfect excuse to take the Whitefield Holts Bandit and Archimedes on a Rammy ramble.

First stop was the Good Samaritan. Not many punters in and those that were in were riveted to the horse racing on TV. Their leader was definitely one scoop short of a vanilla cone and took some shaking off. Combine this with the Alsatian jumping round the seating and it was something of a surreal start. However, yet again, there waItalics no faulting the Golden Pippin. I, along with the WHB, would have gladly stayed for another, but Archimedes doesn’t believe in drinking the same beer twice, so we pushed on.

Next up was the First Chop. Here we enjoyed Phoenix Arizona before moving along to the Major. This had been designated the lunch stop but I was in for a bitter blow. They’d just sold the last piece of their famous homemade cheese & onion pie. Devastated I turned to Dent for some solace and, in a 70’s retro mood, scampi and chips. I also tried the Taylors Landlord which was in good form. The fog had really taken hold in Rammy and we were glad that it was only a very short bus ride to the Hare & Hounds.

Here we were joined by Eddie, the eager, legal beagle. Seems the Manx Minx was in London discovering new ways to rip teeth out. And while the Minx is away, etc. He’d spent the afternoon teaching Don Ricardo and White Wine Sally the Pasa Doble and was ready for a drink. I avoided Hart Dishy Debbie as it usually tastes like dishwater and plumped for Storm Ale Force which was quite drinkable, if unexciting. Much better was the Bollington which was light, with a fruity aroma and a good dry finish. More beer followed-well for me at least. The WHB was seduced by double whisky at £3.35-JDW eat your heart out.

Eventually, before we took root, we took the bus back into Bury and the Trackside. Here we were treated to a cornucopia of beery delights, including the lovely sounding Rugby Cement (6.8%) which even Archimedes, our strong beer expert, said had to be treated with respect. The night sky ebbed and flowed-a bit like the beer, really. Eventually it was just me and Eddie, with tears in our eyes, joining in the sing-along to this moving love ballad*

She’s amazing
She’s so fine
She’s doing Gordon’s Gin at £10.99
And she whispers and calls me darling
As we roll around the cans of Carling
She’s got me on my knees
As we kiss by the Boddies and Tetleys
She’s got me all confused
I love her
The girl from Bargain Booze...

Probably wisely, we then called it a day. Well last orders had been called anyway. And, right on cue, the Manx Minx called to say she had returned. Eddie was quite overcome, I must say. Or was that just his dodgy knee playing up? Ah, no, there’s nothing like a day on the ale to light the flames of passion, is there?

*The Girl from Bargain Booze. A modern tale of covert love by the Lancashire Hotpots.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Joke Of The Day 2: Alistair Darling

“We're living in a North Sea Bubble
We're trying to spend our way out of trouble
You keep buying these things but you don't need them
But as long as you're comfortable it feels like freedom”

(Billy Bragg)

Well the dust is just starting to settle after yesterday’s robbery without violence. The blogosphere is full of anguished drinkers bemoaning Mr Darling’s latest attempt to deprive them of God’s greatest gift. Not only has the miserable git stuck us with an 8% rise, we’ve still got next year’s inflation+4% increase to look forward to. Luckily, when VAT returns to its normal level, so will beer duty. No, hold on, it won’t. Just when you think the Government couldn’t treat you with less contempt, they do. Either pee, or get off the pot. If the Government want to make alcohol illegal, then they should come right out and say so. But, please, stop treating us as mugs. So, I ask you today to raise a glass to Alistair Darling, the jester in a pack of clowns.

Joke Of The Day 1

Talking of everyone's favourite, Wifebeater, I see they've launched a website aimed at festive drinkers. At http://www.gethomesafe.org.uk/ you'll find tips on how to get home safely during the Christmas period. Apparently 83% of Brits will get frustrated when trying to get home after a night out, due to not planning our journeys home in advance. Or because we're pissed, more likely. Anyway, very commendable, but this quote made me chuckle
"This reinforces the brand’s responsible drinking message ." I can see the 2009 adverts now-"Stella, the choice of the responsible drinker." Coming to a billboard near you, shortly...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Enterprise Don't Give A XXXX

In a move guaranteed to warm the cockles of any cask drinker’s heart, Enterprise are to delist Carlsberg and Castlemaine XXXX at the end of January. Ok, they’re replacing them with Becks Vier and Amstel, so nothing too exciting, but I love it when the lager boys have a spat. It’s obviously very bad news for the brands concerned, but they are a bit of a joke, aren’t they? Enterprise claim Carlsberg is no longer viable because volumes and demand have dropped. Carlsberg hit back with “At a time when tenants are facing unprecedented challenges and need support, Enterprise has taken a decision to restrict their choice and offer them brands that are not comparable, in that they are significantly less popular with the consumer, are more expensive and have a much lower rate of sale.” Ooh, bitchy.

It seems though that not everyone is happy-licensee Grant Hollier has written to Enterprise complaining that Carlsberg contributes 33% of his draught sales. He says that if they can’t provide the exact equivalent “I will have no alternative but to source Carlsberg Draught lager elsewhere.” A couple of points here. Firstly, if you do intend to buy outside of the tie, don’t advertise the fact! Secondly, I think he overvalues the appeal of Carlsberg. I don’t know his pub-the Plough & Harrow in Harpenden, but as he says there are plenty of other pubs with it on, presumably there are reasons why people choose to drink in his boozer. Regulars tend to be loyal to a pub and its landlord. If they’re happy with the Plough, they’ll continue to drink there. Stella is only 0.2% stronger and, with the right marketing, he’ll soon be able to convince the local numpties who drink Carlsberg that Stella is a great pint. After all, InBev have been successfully conning people into thinking that for years.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Shout Hallelujah. We're Going To The Promised Land

The Government’s plans for cutting anti-social binge-drinking, ahead of a possible Christmas clampdown, have been leaked to the press. As part of its ”war against alcohol misuse,” which “could cost more than £25 billion a year,” there are plans to ban free drinks for women. Also pubs will be encouraged to sell only small glasses of wine. I, for one, will sleep more soundly in my bed tonight knowing that.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Bury My Wounded Knee At Marton Cum Grafton

Eddie, the eager, legal beagle, suggested we pop out for a drink. Apparently it was National Tweed Underpants Day, which is a sacred day on the IOM. Hence, whilst the Manx Minx was busy washing his Donegal tweed smalls, he was free to drink at will. I reluctantly agreed-I had planned to spend the day cataloguing my Dana record collection, but Eddie is very persuasive. But where to go? Obviously it had to be somewhere local and easy to get to. And that’s how we ended up in York.

Our primary goal was to visit Ye Olde Punch Bowl in Marton cum Grafton-the home of Neil Morrissey’s brewpub venture. The omens weren’t good, with cancelled trains and mad dashes from platform to platform. However, eventually we arrived in York. We’d missed our bus connection, so had 40 mins to kill before our next one. A pint was in order, so we headed straight for the Maltings. This small, one-roomed pub was already busy, even though it was barely noon. Rather annoyingly all the tables were marked reserved, leaving the drinkers stood around rather aimlessly-whatever happened to first come, first served? York Guzzler was a good start though, with plenty of flavour for a 3.6% beer. A sign over the bar proclaimed that “all beer can be served without a nozzle.” Really???

A yomp took us to Brigantes. This spacious cafe bar was new to me and I was quite impressed. The frontage allows plenty of light to seep into the front bar area and there are cosy booths in the back room. It’s the kind of bar Manchester could do with and makes the likes of Bar Fringe seem like the poor cousin. Most importantly the beer was good, with Leeds Pale going down very well. A quick check revealed an interesting menu as well. Haddock in Erdinger caught my eye, whilst Eddie was drawn to pan-fried guinea fowl. However, our bus awaited and so we paid our thanks and made our way back to the station.

The 142 bus makes for an interesting journey, winding up and down country lanes, and through hamlets with names such as Great Ouseburn. Somewhat reminiscent of Lincolnshire, a lot of the landscape is flat, agricultural land. Ye Olde Punch Bowl is on a winding bend and struck us as being much smaller than it appears on TV. Sure enough, the rooms inside were compact with fires in two of them. There is a pleasant outdoor drinking area, and of course there’s the brewery. We poked our round the corner and were promptly invited in by the brewer. A quick chat revealed that they were currently mashing Best Bitter and their seasonal-Mulled Beer. Of course I wanted to ask lots of technical questions, but the best way to assess beer is to swill it, so we proceeded into the pub.

We were both impressed with the layout, with the bar area being modern-contemporary in style with plenty of light coming in. There were people sat at the bar, and we didn’t get the impression that it was a restaurant serving beer-as some of the grumpy locals on TV claimed. Definitely a modern pub I’d say. The food looked good and £8.95 for fish & chips, particularly in such a setting, shows what a liberty certain places in Manchester are taking. However, we weren’t there to eat but rather to try some of the four beers on offer. Ignoring Daleside, we went for their own brews.

Firstly, the beer was cold. Very cold. Obviously stung by the 19C reading that that Cask Marque initially got, they’ve super chilled them. Definite chill haze on the Blonde, but when warmed up it was pleasantly fruity, with a smooth finish. They were shiBoldfting quite a bit of it, as all the ladies-who-lunch were on halves of it. The Best Bitter is their new beer and had more bitterness than the Blonde, although still very easy going. It’s supposed to be a Pilsner type, but seemed a variation of the Blonde to me. I also got a taster of the Mulled Beer (6.2%) which had a mince pie mouthfeel and would probably go down well with Sunday Roast.

Back in York, there were a couple of new pubs we needed to check out, so we made a long (very cold) trek across the city. First stop was the Victoria on Heslington Road. This is a large pub straddling a road junction, and belongs to Old Mill Brewery. Now I can’t say I’m a fan of their beers, all being malty and sweet as far I’m concerned. However inside, the pub was well-appointed, albeit quiet. Bullion was tried and despite being their lightest beer, was er, malty and sickly sweet. A pity as the pub itself is very cosy.

Next up was the Waggon & Horses which reopened as a Batemans pub some 19 weeks ago. They’ve done a very good job, keeping a multi-roomed layout with wood-panelling and lighting that makes for a warm, intimate atmosphere. The landlord was very welcoming and there were eight wickets to choose from. We played safe with Roosters and studied the limited, but very reasonably priced menu. Portions were wholesome and whilst I enjoyed my bangers and mash, Eddie tucked into his steak. Across the road is the Rook & Gaskill which always has a good selection and didn’t disappoint with a quenching Salamander Aztec. Hopefully the brewers didn’t take things too literally as “Aztec hop” is slang for diarrhoea!

Time was now preItalicssing and there was just time for one last drink. It had to be the historic Blue Bell. This claims to be the smallest pub in York and is certainly compact. Always busy, it’s much improved since the smoking ban. I had memories of standing in the drinking corridor with Tandleman, so for nostalgic reasons I plumped for Adnams. Something of a trek took us back to our train. You can tell that everyone knows there are no conductors on at night, as witnessed by the amount of alcopops being swigged en route. Being the considerate type of drinker, they also saw fit to leave their bottles everywhere-including in the toilet. Eddie was by now complaining about his bad knee-he'll say anything to try and get me to touch his knee-Tandleman is just the same.

Back in Manchester we headed for a drink at the Bank. This was unusually busy but one beer caught our eye-Morrissey Fox’s Blonde. I had been told this was the version brewed by Newmans, so was curious to taste the difference. This had more zest than the one brewed at the pub and the hops lingered longer. Possibly even better than the original? We marched up to the Angel which had Little Bollington on, before having a very late nightcap of Durham White Velvet in the Marble. Then it was home time. York and MCG both proved worthy of a visit and unlike Tandleman yesterday, prices were very reasonable.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Pizza For The Mentally Ill

Pizza Hut (or should that be Pasta Hut?) are offering 50% off when you order £40 or more. Holy Mother of Mary. Has the world gone mad? Are there really people who spend £40 in Pizza Hut??? They must be completely and utterly bonkers. Instead of getting 50% off, they should be driven away locked in a straitjacket. And what is the Government doing about this national scandal? Nothing. That's right, nothing. Instead of wasting money on ID cards and reminding people of the supposed dangers of not wearing a seat belt, they should be tackling the real issues. I want to see TV adverts making clear the dangers of such places. I want kids steered away from this evil social blight. As Billy Bragg said "Wearing badges is not enough. In days like these." We need action NOW.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

What Am I Going To Do With Your Tattoo?

Déjà vu all over again as I visited Ramsbottom once more-this time in my semi-official capacity as a local beerhound. First stop was the Good Samaritan where I had a chat with the landlord. Seems (as was speculated) that he is just a manager keeping the seat warm till Enterprise can con, I mean convince, someone to take it on. Seems a bit daft to me. They’ve got money to pay someone at least minimum wage , for months on end, and yet they consistently increased the financial pressure on the one successful tenant that they did have. Or am I missing something here?

Anyway both the Copper Dragon and Theakstons Mild were good, although it’s hard to see the Mild lasting long as there simply aren’t any customers. Only two people iItalicn-there would have been three, but the landlord’s rather large dog went for some poor old bloke as he was coming in, necessitating a hasty exit. Over at the First Chop things were also quite, but slightly more relaxed. This is the bar I was approached about some time ago. It’s the sort of place Bury centre could do with-offering an eclectic choice of Lancashire tapas or mains and an excellent drinks selection. There is a small bar upstairs with cosy dining available downstairs. It’s still a work in progress but it deserves success for bringing innovation to the area. There are currently four casks available-two from Thwaites and two guests. I enjoyed some excellent Jekyll’s Gold over a chat with the owner, Rick. He likes to source his beer locally-like his food, and on next will be Outstanding Blonde and Outstanding Ginger.

I roused myself from the comfort of a barstool and made my way round to the Major. Last night’s Lakeland Gold was so good I wanted some more before it ran out. Luckily it was still on and still excellent. Also, luckily, they have a very civilised attitude to last orders. It was there that I was told a woeful tale of forsaken love by a friendly barfly. Seems he’d decided to get a tattoo of his beloved to prove the ardour of his affection. However, it was he, not she, that got the surprise when he went home. She took him aside and gave him the Italic“this may not be the best time, but...” speech. If only more people would heed the warning of Sammy Kershaw. As he sang in the classic Your Tatoo,
"I got you under my skin a long time ago:
Just a little tattoo to let the world know
That there'd never be no one for me but you.
But you turned out to be a bad heartache,
And I found someone to take your place.
Now, what am I gonna do with your tattoo?
Well, it won't wash off or fade away,
And I'm stuck with you till my dying day.
It's just a picture of a girl in her birthday suit,
With her cowboy hat and her cowboy boots"

There's a lesson for all of us there, I think.

I Lost My Husband To Ale

That headline grabbed me today. It was in an article on infidelity in Woman magazine. At last I thought. Some brave soul has finally come forward and revealed the torment and heartache that a love affair with real ale can bring. Making up excuses to try and cover that illicit rendezvous. Pretending you’re late at work when you’re really spending time with Golden Pippin in the Dog & Duck. Telling the wife you spent the night with a hooker, when in reality you’ve been gently caressing a pint of Adnams. We’ve all been there.

Sadly, closer inspection revealed a clever typographer at work. They’d coloured in the X at the end, so it actually read “I lost my husband to Alex.” Alex apparently being some loser on the X-Factor. Well they’re all losers appearing on that show, obviously, but you get the idea. The Jeremy Kyle showdown between Camra and spurned spouses is on hold. But it’s only a matter of time...

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Doing The Ramsbottom Rumba

Eddie, the eager, legal beagle, was at a loose end. The Manx Minx was out collecting wild mushrooms under the light of a full moon. Well she claimed she was going for a curry, but we’ve all heard that before. Honestly, I ask you, which is the more likely? So abandoned and unwanted, his thoughts naturally turned to drink. I accompanied him merely to ensure that the statutory minimum number of drinkers, as required under EU legislation, was met.

Our first stop was the Trackside. A good mix on the board and the first pint-George Wright Cheeky Pheasant (4.7) was pleasantly fruity and made for a good start. Unfortunately, our second choice proved disappointing. Facers Flintshire Bitter was only 3.7% and should have been light quaffing ale. Sadly it suffered from “Bazens Disease” i.e. it was very heavily smoked, making it very difficult to enjoy. I hope this malady isn’t spreading amongst the local microbrewery population; otherwise we’re all in trouble.

Moving on, we decided to take a punt on the Peel. Relying on their perverse nature, there was a chance that, with the JDW festival now officially finished, there would be festival beers available. And indeed there was. O’Hanlon’s Goldblade (4%) was a clear wheat beer with a good mix of citrus and floral flavours making it very easy drinking. Bath Golden Hare (4.4%) was even better. A light, zesty beer, the initial hint of diacetyl was blown away by the long, dry, bitter finish. I could have gladly stayed on that all night, but we were on tour.

Next stop was our ex local, the Good Samaritan in Ramsbottom. Now reopened under new (temporary?) management, I had heard conflicting stories about the place. Certainly most of its former customers seem to be boycotting it for one reason or another. Some claim it’s too expensive-£2.40 for Copper Dragon, others that the landlord is a “miserable bastard,” and others simply out of loyalty for the irreplaceable Roger. However, it was now going to face Tyson’s famous Tuesday night litmus test.

First impressions were favourable. The place was clean and the front parlour area now boasted tables which improved its appearance. Of concern to me though, was the return of the pool table to the backroom. Not only does it take up very valuable seating space, it historically has attracted the kind of clientele that Roger so successfully banished. Only time will tell if it’s going to slip into bad habits. Customers were thin on the ground, with a grumpy bus driver holding court at the bar, telling anyone who would listen that it’s a well-known fact that you can’t get insurance to drive along the Champs-Elysees. Three beers were on-Golden Pippin, Theakstons, and the redoubtable JW Lees-which has survived every incarnation of the pub. We tried the Golden Pippin and found it to be good, so good that we had to stay for several.

Our next port of call was to be the First Chop but it doesn’t open Tuesdays, so we marched on to the Major. What came as a surprise as we traversed the back streets of Ramsbottom was how busy it was for a Tuesday night. We discovered a very busy Thai restaurant and a trendy bar called (unimaginatively) The Lounge was also doing good business. It was quiz night at the Major, which probably explained the number of bums on seats. However, sensibly, this was only taking place in one room, so we sought sanctuary in the other room. There were signs advertising Cumbria beers, and indeed Hawkshead Lakeland Gold was available. When tried this proved to be in excellent condition, with good carbonation and an appealing fruity aroma. The body was rich with plenty of hops and a good bitter finish. Very tasty. Out of curiosity, the Golden Pippin was tried, and also found to be excellent-even better than at the Sam.

Heading towards Bury we called in at the usually reliable Towler. However, the Pippin here was pure vinegar and we even had the old adage “but Tom has been drinking it all night” put to us-how quaint! Tom, being the only customer in the place, must have had a stomach of iron as, even if you could ignore the pong and drink it, it would have passed through you quicker than Senna. Politely declining the option to switch to Greene King IPA, we took our money and walked down to the Sundial for a nightcap. It was quiz night here also, but alas there was no escape from it. Wainwrights was on offer, the only problem being that it was very warm. Warm beer accentuates any underlying flavours and with Wainwrights it unfortunately brought sweetness to the fore. Not ideal, but it went down easy enough as the last bell told us our night of adventure was coming to a close. Not too bad and I shall be keeping an eye on both the Major and the Sam.

Biobeer-Coming To A Future Near You

Beer drinkers could soon get many of the health benefits that wine drinkers enjoy, thanks to American students of genetic engineering. Apparently, they've bio-engineered a beer with anti-cancer properties. The new brew contains resveratrol, a chemical found in wine and thought to be responsible for reduced cancer rates in lab tests. Currently Biobeer's chemical additives don't taste too good, but as it isn't due in the UK for five years, so there's plenty of time to tweak it.

Just bang it in Bud I say-it's bound to improve it.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

A Brewery Visit And Then Some Beer

Another day, another beer festival. Well another day at Bury, anyway. Before that though was the little matter of a brewery visit to Outstanding. Being the BLO for my (sometimes too) local brewery, I was the natural choice to lead the great and good of Chester Camra to this hard to find beer outpost.

We met up at the Trackside at lunchtime for a quick aperitif. Unfortunately the beer range was obviously suffering from festivalitis, as the severely depleted board offered nothing under 5%. Undaunted we managed some of the rather fruity Atomic Bomb before winding our way to Outstanding. Based in a rather run-down industrial area, it’s surrounded by a number of brothels which I’m sure don’t offer real ale, although several people seemed interested in verifying this. That’s dedication to the cause.
At the brewery we enjoyed a couple of entertaining hours sampling the likes of Blonde etc. Not forgetting the sublime Barley Wine. Then it was time to get back to the festival before all the beer ran out. It hadn’t, although a lot had. A heady mix of beer, cider and more (foreign beer) followed before Eddie and I escaped to pastures new. A bus ride out to Ramsbottom’s newest bar-The First Chop-seemed like a good idea. And so we were soon ensconced in its cosy upstairs bar. More on this new venture another time but suffice it to say we enjoyed pints of Bank Top and Jekyll’s Gold before Eddie forced my mouth open and poured Laphroaig down my unwilling oesophagus. Then, after another long day, it was home, via our old friend Pizza Pioneer.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Festival Frolics

There was only one thing on the mind of Bury’s drinkers today: was X-Factor rigged? No, hold on, that was last week. Today was Bury Beer Festival day. Build it and they will come. And come they did, bringing together a mix of the usual well-known faces and first-timers. People studiously scrutinised their festival programme before plumping for a drink. Tickers ticked. Scoopers scooped. Celebrity spotters sort out the exalted beer pulpiteer Tandleman as he held august court over his minions. And Don Ricardo had to be smuggled in via the fire escape. It was all happening in the Derby Hall.

My own appearance at the festival was somewhat delayed by a visit to Outstanding Brewery. I had to check arrangements for tomorrows visit, and their early morning hospitality being what it is, I was unavoidably detained there. Clearly a breach of my human rights, but what can a beerhound do?

The festival proved to be somewhat of a combination of (mostly) good, the bad, and the ugly. The good were beers such as Phoenix Simco and the even better Spotland Gold, which I thought was the best beer I had. Bowland Real Lancashire Bitter was pale with a pleasing fruity aroma and decent hop bite. Sadly, their Octo-Beer proved quite bland on this occasion. As did Facers DHB, whBoldich was obviously green, as it lacked any trace of its usual hop bite. Dependable as ever, the Darkstar beers-Hophead and Expresso Stout, both proved winners. Both Boggart and Greemill also proved dependable-dependably disappointing. I tried Greenmill’s Cobra Crystal Wheat after Tandleman said he’d had a good one, but on this showing that must have been an abnormality, as I found it quite insipid. Or maybe that’s what passes as wheat beer in Rochdale?

Dunham Massey tickled the taste buds with their Chocolate Cherry Mild and I was impressed with the zest of Brewdog Punk IPA-great to see this on draught. Less impressive was Hopstar Karling where the Hersbrucker hops failed to offset the malt to any satisfying degree. The bad must be the temperature which, unusually for Bury, was very high. Bury has a well deserved rep as being the coldest festival-not too good for punters, but excellent for the beer. Unfortunately, the heating stayed on today, catching experienced festival goers out, as they had come safely wrapped up. Cue the shedding of layers of woolly clothing-sadly mainly by bearded, pot-bellied sandal wearers, and not the lasses of Bury. The ugly award, however, must go to Hopstar for their Singing Mouse. The tasting notes of “light well balanced session beer” did not prepare one for the taste onslaught of sickly caramel and highly unpleasant aftertaste that required a lot of washing away. On this evidence, Hopstar’s brewer shouldn’t give up their day job.

Time was eventually called, leading to the inevitable exodus in search of a suitable nightcap. A visit to Wetherspoons proved (inevitably) frustrating, and Eddie, the eager, legal beagle and I decided to chance a very late visit to the Trackside. Most patrons had left, but I spotted drinks being poured and made a dash for the bar. Assuming the air of a patron who had been there all night and who had just popped out for a smoke-thereby missing the last orders bell-I demanded every man’s God given right-a pint at last call. Thus we did enjoy a pint of Everards Sunchaser at the witching hour. It transpires that Eddie couldn’t recall this far into the evening, so those pictures of him running naked down the train lines will no doubt come in useful one day...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Do That To Me One More Time

This morning it felt like I’d been mixing whisky and beer last night. Probably because I had. No time to wallow though. The WHB was on the loose and demanding an afternoon drink. The weather wasn’t very welcoming and neither were most of the pubs in the centre of Bury. A problem meant they had no running water and so had to close. Luckily no such worries for the Trackside-they’ve got their own supply, and the staff don’t wash their hands anyway.
So it was a repeat performance with Mallinsons featuring once again. Oakham did appear on the bar later, but by then it was already too late. and it was Talisker time. Until recently the Trackside had only sold the abysmal Bushmills, but things are slowly improving. Talisker is now available for the more discerning pisshead. Gloriously peaty with notes of underlying chocolate and pepper, the finish is very dry and pure North Sea. A great way to finish off an afternoon’s drinking, and, as a bonus, mask the effects of last night.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Winner Takes It All

Another Day. Another Beer. Actually that’s what I’m calling my autobiography, but it happens to be true. What would be today’s excuse to ease my worries about the credit crunch, global warming, and the plight of the Javan rhino? Ah, yes, the Hairy Mounds winning Cask Ale Pub of The Year. As good as any reason to enjoy Humulus lupulus, I’d say.

So it was that I found myself at the bar of the aforementioned winner tackling George Wright Longboat. This was pale with some summer fruit sweetness and a short, dry, finish. This was followed by the wonderfully named Cumbrian Legendary Blue Monkey Amber Ale, which, like all their beers I’ve tried, was excellent. In between shots of celebratory whisky, I also managed some Outlaw and Crouch Vale Eureka. The latter of these was indeed copper-coloured and, although easy drinking for 4.6%, failed to live up to the hoppy claims of the pumpclip.

Down in the Trackside the beer of choice was Mallinsons Stadium. Straw in colour, it packed quite a bit of flavour for 3.9%. Clean crisp hoppiness was matched by a dry, fruity, finish. Well worth having a couple of. With Fagash Lil’ bustling us out of the door for an early close, it was the Peel or bust. Unfortunately, as usual, this was disappointing, with most beers simply not available. After having settled my stomach with more whisky I tried the Yo-Ho Yona Yona. It seemed to lack any discernable aroma and although more of an American style beer than the Firestone, it still failed to deliver anything like its hype. Not bad, but Proper Job remains the best JDW beer so far.

And The Winner Is

Congratulations to the Hare & Hounds in Holcombe Brook for scooping the Publican’s Cask Ale Pub of The Year award. There were some excellent pubs in the finals, but having visited most of them, I think it’s a very fair result. It’s long been known that Bury has some of the finest ale houses in the land and I’m happy that this is finally being recognised.

Sadly, despite being in London, I didn’t get to attend the swank awards ceremony yesterday, but will have to make do with a celebratory drink later. Such is life of a beerhound-always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Brought to you by Tyson, your local Reuters correspondent.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Hanging Around In Whitefield

The Southport Drinker recently did a piece highlighting Albert Pierrepoint’s role as a local licensee. Never afraid of plagiarising a good idea, I thought I’d do the same for Harry Allen.

Harry Bernard Allen (1911-1992) was Britian’s last hangman. He reached the peak of his somewhat dubious profession after some 14 years as Pierrepoint’s deputy. People tend to get the two confused and indeed many think that Albert had a pub in Bury, when it was actually Harry. In those days, despite the important nature of their job, executioners weren’t well paid and had to maintain a “proper” job. Mr & Mrs Allen had run a pub in Farmworth-the Rawsons Arms, before taking over the Junction Hotel in Whitefield in July 1952.

The Junction was the last pub to be built by Bury’s own Crown Brewery, and, in time, it duly passed to Duttons and then Whitbread. It was in its final incarnation as a Tetley outlet that I became familiar with it. Sadly, as with so many pubs on the main road to Manchester, it’s no longer here to entertain us. However, locals of a certain age still fondly recall Harry and his first wife, Marjorie. It appears he was a popular landlord and stayed at the helm for 11 years until his retirement in 1963.

Harry made the local press in 1960 when he became the first publican in the town to organise a foreign trip, when he took some regulars to Holland. A little later he went one better and took some seventy punters with him for three days in Barcelona. Language lessons were courtesy of his son’s Spanish wife, Angeles. I believe his son, Brian, still resides locally in Bolton. Of course there are many tales at the expense of his “other job” and whether apocryphal or not, they are quite entertaining. Like the passing motorist who broke down and enquired at the pub whether Harry “had a length of rope he could borrow.” I certainly would have liked to see the two murals that apparently hung upstairs-one portraying Newgate Gaol and the other, the Old Bailey. Truly a case of art imitating life, I'd say.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Cheese Of The Moment: Ossau-Iraty

Ossau-Iraty is a superb cheese-indeed it won the World Cheese Award in 2006, but remains the least known Appellation d'Origine Controlee (A.O.C) cheese. Why I’m not sure, but I suppose one has to be, and Ossau-Iraty is probably just not mainstream enough. Strange really considering its highly palatable flavour.

This cheese unites two regions of France in the Western Pyrénées: Ossau in the valley of the Bearn and Iraty in the beech forests of the Pays Basque. It’s unpasteurised and semi-soft, made with the milk of Manech ewes. During the summer the herds move up to the better grazing land higher up the mountains, which is reflected in its rich texture.

Ossau-Iraty is very complex and tastes creamy and buttery in the mouth with slight hints of fruit and a nutty, deep finish. Interestingly the rind is also edible, but be warned, it is quite tart. Good for all uses, although I tend not to use it for pizzas as the complex taste tends to be lost amongst the maelstrom of stronger cheeses.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Destination Dewsbury

A morning tram ride took me to Manchester in order to get the train to Dewsbury. But as I sauntered past Piccadilly Wetherspoons, I was struck by a strange impulse to venture beyond its grubby doors. Famously once voted the roughest JDW in Britain-quite an accolade considering the competition-nowadays it seems to cater mainly for the sad and desperate. A typical JDW some might say. Anyway, it does have its share of celebrity visitors-Tandleman has been known to pop his head round the door, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Already fairly busy and it wasn’t 11am yet, I positioned myself at one end of the long bar directly in front of the elusive Proper Job. Quite clever I thought, as after serving the village idiot ordering two coffees it was obviously me next as there was no one else anywhere near. Alas the Czech ice maiden behind the bar proved to be a clone of her sister in Huddersfield. Whilst she was at the till counting out change one of the local deadbeats sidled up beside me. Not a problem until the cheeky chappy promptly ordered several pints of cooking lager. Apparently she hadn’t been to Specsavers as a shrug of the shoulders was her only answer to my protestations. I did, however, leave the interloper in no doubt as to my opinion of him.

Having eventually been served by Miss Czech Congeniality-after pouring me the wrong pint-I settled down with the excellent Proper Job. A beautiful balance of fruit, hops and delicate malt, it was easily the best festival beer so far. As a courtesy I felt compelled to share the good news with Tandleman. Although time was pressing, but instead a rapid yomp up to the station was needed to ensure I had time to collect the tickets and catch the train.

First stop was Huddersfield. I feel like a local now and so, eschewing the station offerings, I escorted Archimedes and Pythagoras to the Grove. Here there was just time for a pint of the very moreish Phoenix Hopsack before heading back to the station. Here we called in at the King’s Head, which as usual had an interesting selection. First up was the 5% Stilton Porter. I quite liked this, as the Stilton was subtle and came through in the aftertaste smoothing out the rough edges. Church End Goat’s Milk (3.8%) was even better. A sparkling golden beer, it was very light on the palate with a slow-burn dry finish. Then it was out onto the platform and onto the Batley train.

Batley, having been immortalised by Monty Python, is now considered somewhat rough and is part of an EU transformation zone. However, no problems at our destination-Batley Cellar Bar, as chronicled by A Swift One. Here I enjoyed a couple of Copper Dragon beers before we headed back into Dewsbury. Not far to the nearest hostelry here as the West Riding Refreshment Rooms are in the station. Some excellent Glentworth was sampled before we took a little taxi ride out to the Shepherd’s Boy.

This excellent Ossett pub kept us entertained with a mix of their own beers and (for me), Leeds Pale. Back at the Refreshment Rooms there was time for a swifty before catcItaliching the Manchester bound train.
It was fairly tipping down when I arrived back-the perfect excuse to divert once more into Wetherspoons. With Proper Job gone, I settled for Brakspear Oxford Gold which proved surprising fruity. A meander took me up to the Marble Arch where I was hoping to find Eddie, the eager, legal beagle. However, the birds had already flown the coup in search of Manchester’s seedy side. Only Deathly Hallows remained, slightly the worse for wear, and eventually we ended up on the same Bury tram. Where, who should we meet, but Dean, our own cellarman from the Trackside. Naturally when he proposed having a nightcap in Bury, what could I say but....?