About Me

My photo
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

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....?

Friday, 7 November 2008

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Where Is All The Decent Beer?

The plan was to take it nice and easy and save myself for tomorrow. However, the Whitefield Holts Bandit had others ideas and proposed a post-work drink in Manchester. I was a little reluctant as I was already ensconced in the Peel. But, as the Highgate Red Rogue was proving disappointing-like most of their beers, I decided to go for it.

The first sign something was amiss was the delay to the tram service, apparently caused by heavy congestion in the city centre. This turned out to be a knock-on effect of the Christmas lights being turned on and I began to suspect that things wouldn’t run that smoothly pub wise either. So it turned out at our first stop-the usually reliable Marble Arch. It wasn’t actually the best time to visit the place, as it was very busy and you constantly ran the risk of people bumping into you. They had obviously been hammered during the afternoon as two pumps were derelict, the Budvar had run out and a lot of the food options weren’t available. Never mind I thought, there’s always the dependable Pint. Unfortunately, not on this occasion, as a burnt malt flavour competed with the usual hoppy finish. Have they been taking brewing tips from Bazens? Although JP Best and Pictish Brewers Gold were better, it was time to move on.

Down at the comfortable busy Angel we enjoyed Facers house beer. Nice to see it doing well and customers were starting to pile in looking for dining spots. Allowing myself to be guided by the WHB we called in at one of his favourites-Bar Fringe. Empty wickets here as well, but we managed a pint of Fernandes which was ok, if nothing special. However, squeezed in again, I couldn’t help but notice that it’s almost like a tourist trap-full of punters who know no better. The handsome guy pictured was in the Fringe on the table next to me and the WHB. Probably their last satisfied punter. Time to relegate the Fringe to the lower divisions, methinks.

Talking of relegation, our next stop was the Smithfield as I wanted to give it one more chance. It was strangely quiet-perhaps all the punters come in later for the controversial smoke lock-in? Yet again a strange selection on the bar. Seven beers on which were all dark and strong. I was all for leaving but by now the WHB was busily chatting to the couple at the bar and so we ended up trying Robinsons Chocolate Old Tom. What a way to spoil a classic beer-it tasted like they’d just thrown in drinking chocolate into the mix. Horrible. And the nice couple turned out to be Camra zealots who insisted on telling us why they were boycotting the Angel. Each to their own, but looking round, I knew which pub I’d rather be drinking in. I’ve heard that the local Camra are watching the SF closely but it seems that the initial momentum of the new owners has dissipated. Another one to put on the back burner until things improve.

Our finale was much better. The English Lounge was busy but we managed to grab a central table from which to watch the fun and frolics of a Friday night. The WHB took a (naturally) particular interest in a group of women obviously on something of a do. He soon elicited from a wee Scottish lass the information that it was a 50th birthday celebration. This prompted the reflection, from the usually unfussy, WHB that they must have had a hard life as they looked “past it.” He can be such a bitch sometimes. However, although the Copper Dragon certainly wasn’t past it, we eventually had to make a move nearer home. I just had time for a whisky nightcap in the Peel before getting some much needed kip for Saturday’s jaunt.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Brown Beer And Diacetyl

What a Tuesday night. It was great to be part of such a historical moment and I celebrated late into the night. The sort of evening you want to tell your grandchildren about. Yes, Alan Partridge (And Less Successful Characters) was back in Manchester-what did you think I meant? Really I could have done with a night in, but I was teased with the lure of football and so reluctantly (for me) I turned out. I had a bad feeling in my water about it though, and it wasn’t all down to the curry & tequila I had last night.

It started badly with word coming through that the Towler had let us down and we needed to find a quick alternative. The good news was that the Sundial was showing the match, so only a minor detour was needed. The bad news was that they only had Flying Shuttle (4.6%) on handpump. Although the pub was busy, no one else seemed to be drinking it as quite a bit had to be pulled through. Even then it was warm. A innocuous brown beer is the most generous comment you could pass on it. It would probably do well in London as they would most likely consider it exotic. It would probably get praised as “a typical Lancashire Bitter” It is after all, apparently, the official beer of Lancashire Day. A move to Yorkshire looks better all the time.

Having suffered several pints of this bland concoction, I was grateful when it was time to move on. I knew a visit to the Trackside would be wasted as Dean had snuck off to the Stoke beer festival, so the Peel seemed a likely choice. Realistically it was the only choice. Surely they would have some festival delights to tempt us? Apart from the very ordinary Alton, a bank of empty pumps faced us. Chris, the manager, explained that they had been very busy and most of the beers they had put on that afternoon had already gone. It must have been the shock of actually finding the Peel with guest beers on that had driven people into such a drinks frenzy. Put beers on and people will come.

Sadly the Black Wattle beer was one of the casualties. Never mind, there still was Batemans Eastern Promise and Proper Job. Saving the enticing Proper Job for after, I dived straight into the Batemans. You could tell underneath there was a good beer trying to get out but the edge was taken off by some unpleasant diacetyl in the aftertaste. Not brilliant. Still, there was always the Proper Job...

“Three pints of Proper Job, please.”
“Sorry, it’s just gone.”
“What! Well what do you recommend then?”
“Proper Job, but it’s just gone.”

Hence we ended up with diacetyl Batemans again. And although I managed another pint of it after that, that really was the limit of my patience with under-par beer and after last orders I made my sad, forlorn, journey home. Brown beer and diacetyl-oh woe is me.

End Of An Era

So, the chop has come at last. Carlsberg have announced plans to close the Tetley brewery in Leeds. No doubt the blogosphere will be buzzing with views all day. Let’s be honest, the Leeds operation must have always been a sideshow to a company with no interest in real ale. They do plan to continue brewing Tetley-preferably in the North of England, but “definitely” still in the UK. Doh!

Obviously they will still brew here-unless Denmark has suddenly become a major cask ale producer. In reality this means under contract, which in reality means changes to the beer, which inevitably leads to the brand dying off. How the mighty have fallen. A sad day for Leeds and the workforce. And for those who recall Tetley in its glory days. Very interesting, though, in terms of what will happen to the market when the last of the big players leaves.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Vikings Take No Prisoners

My plans for a quiet night in the company of the latest Mills & Boon were scuppered. Eddie, the eager, legal beagle was back from his German jaunt and wanted to reacquaint himself with some proper beer. He’d been drinking far too much of that damn Boche beer. I begged to be excused, but he quoted some obscure EU directive at me and so I had to attend.

Our rendezvous was the Robert Peel, in the hope of securing some festival beers. My journey down was quite eventful with the bus driver punctuating the air with expletives urging the traffic to go faster and traffic lights to change colour. The reason for his haste soon became apparent when he informed the bus “Jesus, I think I’m going to piss myself.” Luckily, for all of us, this didn’t occur-a quick dash at the bus station merely left the waiting hordes bemused
I was expecting Eddie to turn up resplendent in his Hitler-Jugend uniform but, apparently, it’s at the dry-cleaners. There were several beers on offer, and I settled down to sample some as he enthralled me with tales of his encounters with strange German sausages. The Firestone was tried again, but there is little you can actually say about it, really. It seems a great waste of time and money to bring someone over from the USA just to brew such an average beer. ButcoBoldmbe Bitter (4%) was better, being an easy drinking, if unexciting, amber beer. Hooky Gold was also reasonable but I suspect a tad green. How else to explain the lack of hop punch, despite the presence of Willamette hops.

Much more interesting was Mikkel’s Viking Return. According to the tasting notes it’s amber in colour. Well, mine wasn’t. It’s definitely too dark in body to be recognised as amber. The aroma was interesting-a quick check revealed there to be 4 hops at work in the beer. Now I’m familiar with three of them-Cascade, Fuggles, and Galena which I know is a bittering hop. However, all I know about Glacier is that it’s a low alpha-acid hop, which makes me think it’s contributing to the nearly (but not quite) Cascade aroma of this beer. Taste wise it’s extremely bitter and would definitely be too much for some people. The most interesting festival beer I’ve come across so far.
Needing a change of scenery (and beer), we eventually moved onto the Trackside. A full board once more greeted us and we soon struck up a conversation with Dean, the barman-cum- cellarman. Eddie played safe with Elland Best which was light and easy going but lacking the hops you might expect. I tried Battledown Saxon without having a taster. After all, how bad could a pale 3.8% beer be? Well I soon found out. What a terrible beer. Too much crystal malt for a start and the finish was pure smoked peat. Only my professionalism ensured I could finish the pint. Was it a bad batch or are they simply another dodgy micro? I will certainly be wary of them in the future.

Talking of dodgy micros, Greenmill Firecracker was also on. Now they are a micro based in a snooker hall in Rochdale. With that pedigree there was only two possible outcomes. Either they would rise above their surroundings and produce some amazing beers. Or they wouldn’t. And they don’t. I know Greenmill Chief was on last week and was terrible. A lot of the time their beers won’t even clear. They only seem to survive on sympathy orders. Which brings me onto Camra’s LocALE scheme. Commendable in theory, but what are you supposed to do if some of your local breweries are shit? A thorny question of ethics that Aristotle would have wrestled with.

Of course some local breweries are excellent and Phoenix Last Leaf was also available. As was Bury’s own Outstanding Blond. This is a Pilsner type lager ale which, on this occasion, I think missed its intended mark. From the cellar I also tried Gardener’s Hop as recommended by Tandleman. It was acidic in taste but as it wasn’t ready for the bar yet, I will give it another chance. Eddie was obviously pining for the Fatherland now, so we finished with a couple of bottles of Jever which Dean insisted we drink out of barrel glasses. Then the dreaded last bell rang and it was time for Eddie to go home and satisfy the Manx Minx’s primal urge. Apparently she required a Pizza Pioneer special. Well that’s what he told me anyway.

Yellow Fever

Well the nutters in Whitehall are at it again. You’d think the Government would have plenty on its plate and wouldn’t have time to harass the pub trade any further. You’d be wrong. Obviously they know where their priorities lie. They’ve written to local councils advocating a number of measures that should be applied to so-called problem pubs.

Apparently, under review pubs should display a yellow card in some sort of bizarre naming and shaming exercise. That’ll teach them. Other proposals include employing over 25s only and forcing them to close at weekends. The trade has hit back saying that there should be a green card scheme for the vast majority of pubs that abide by the law. Rightly they are miffed that the Government chose to write to councils without first consulting those most affected.

As usual this is the Government marching to its own beat. One of its obsessions seems to be passing more legislation, so as to be seen to be doing something, instead of ensuring that current laws and regulations are properly enforced. There is a perfectly adequate licensing system in place already which should be being used to address any concerns. Apart from the fact that it won’t solve the problems the Government seems intent on blaming the on-trade for, it’s completely unnecessary. Government, heal thyself. Or, better yet, stick a cork in it.


Every Little Can Helps

In a move likely to gladden the heart of the Southport Drinker, I see that Tesco have fallen foul of Alcohol Concern. They held a 24hr sale offering 15 can crates of Stella for only £5. I must have been washing my hair on that day as somehow it passed me by. Anyway, apparently it was for purely altruistic reasons-a spokesman said they were merely trying to help “hard-up families.” However, AC have branded it “totally irresponsible.” And, for once, I find myself in agreement with them. It is totally irresponsible. How patronising to think that all hard-up families want to drink crap. What about the poor drinker who just wants to enjoy a beer at home without feeling the urge to beat his partner or mug old ladies?

I’ve written to Tesco to point out their erroneous thinking and look forward to their first 24hr bottle-conditioned sale.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Manchester Festival Hunt

After a splendid afternoon spent watching football, a tour of Manchester seemed like the natural thing to do. Aren’t those chaps at JDW having a beer festival? I believe so, old boy. In that case let us make haste to the nearest hostelry and imbibe some of Mother’s Nature’s greatest gifts.

First stop was the Moon Under Water on Deansgate. A giant, soulless place, that use to be a cinema. The lack of natural light doesn’t help with the ambience and the place is packed with an eclectic mix of characters. From the upstairs bar we sampled Firestone California Pale Ale (4.5%) and Sharp’s Own (4.4%) which made for an interesting contrast. I have to agree with other commentators who found the Firestone underwhelming. The initial Burton Snatch gives way to a short bitter finish, and that’s that. Not a hint of any hops. The Sharps was dark amber and had a malty/barley mouthfeel that led to a lingering bitter finish.

Once we had managed to get served downstairs, we tried Wadworth Camrale and Badger Toad’s Croak, both of which failed to impress. Camrale (4%) was indeed deep golden, but that as was as far as the tasting notes went in terms of accuracy. It tasted like every, and any, other Wadworth. Certainly no sign of “a punchy hop kick,” and those on the tasting panel who chose this beer should hang their heads in shame. Toad’s Croak (3.8%) was tawny and had a hint of fruit but otherwise was quite forgettable. I tried a half of Meantime Coffee Porter (5%) and wish I hadn’t. The mouthfeel certainly was intense and too harsh for my palate.

Moving on we decided to try the Waterhouse next. This was much quieter, although still nicely busy. Not much on the festival front, but we tried the two new ones. J.W.Lees Autumn Glow (4.2%) was described as having a “subtle hop aroma,” which Boldwas true-the hop was VERY subtle. So subtle, in fact, that you couldn’t detect it. Definitely a Lees beer. Everards aren’t particularly good brewers but their Equinox wasn’t bad. At 4.2% it was quite well balanced, with only a bit of sweetness coming through at the end.

Not a festival beer but on the bar, nonetheless, was Saltaire Stateside IPA. This seemed very promising but at 6% we had to be sure. It was then that we came across something of a festival abnormality. We asked for a taster before we committed to a pint, only to be told that they’re not offering them during the festival. The barman explained that they considered 3 thirds the perfect way to sample beers. But, as we pointed out, we didn’t want to try 3 beers, only the Saltaire. An impasse had been reached, with some people wanting to vote with their feet. The feminine voice of cool reason prevailed and we ended up with halves. It was worth waiting for as it certainly had a clear hop kick, but there was no escaping the alcohol in the body which reminded you of its strength.

Our next stop-The Bank, had a good selection as usual, but Oakham Inferno (4%) was the standout beer on offer. Beautifully hopped, this pale beer is an old friend and very moreish. One pint turned into two and then we decided on the N/4 for a nightcap. The Crown & Kettle had a poor selection so we headed straight for the Smithfield. Unfortunately the beer choice here wasn’t very good either, although I felt obliged to try a half of Northern Deep Dark Secret, but it was so poor I left most of it. We yomped up to the Marble and were rewarded with a very healthy range of beers. Phoenix Spotland Gold and Marble Pint went down well before it was time to stagger back for our bus to Bury.

Arriving there hungry and ever so slightly pissed, we pushed the boat out and hit Pizza Pioneer for a sit down slice of heaven. Slightly disappointed with the range and quality of JDW festival beers so far, I’m hoping things improve next week.