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

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Ooh la la

Bad news for our Garlic loving cousins across la Manche as the French president, Fran├žois Hollande, has announced plans to increase the taxation on beer by a whopping 160%. Traditionally the French have enjoyed very low beer tax rates, even though this doesn’t always translate to the price punters pay at the bar. However, this measure is certain to put further pressure on an already strained market.

Jacqueline Lariven, spokeswoman for the French brewer's federation, Brasseurs de France, estimated that this would translate to an immediate 20% rise in beer prices in bars and supermarkets. The allure for the president is clear: a projected €480m to replenish the country's coffers. But set against a 6% fall in EU beer production and an 8% fall in beer consumption since 2008; no wonder the Brewers of Europe trade group describe it as a “kick in the teeth”.


Monday evening saw the great and not-so-good head to the Port Street Beer House for a meet the brewer session with Kirkstall. Launched last year, they are an up-and-coming outfit based near Leeds on the side of the Leeds and Liverpool canal.

Although it was billed as a “meet the brewer” and he (Alex) was there, it was the gaffer, Steve Holt who did most of the talking. He gave a confident presentation that eschewed the basic malt-hops-yeast makes beer spiel and concentrated on the specifics of Kirkstall Brewery.

This was all for the good; as it’s safe to assume most of those assembled knew the ABC of brewing. What people are interested in (well I am, anyway) are what the brewery’s story is and what’s in their beer. Steve was obviously passionate not only about the Kirkstall beers, but also about the local heritage and the history of the original Kirkstall Brewery, Which all made for an entertaining and informative evening.

Kirkstall Pale Ale
Inspired by American Pale Ales, but tempered more for the British palate, the well-balanced mix of malt and hops gives an enjoyable fruit edge to the beer. A good start.

Black Band Porter
Another enjoyable beer. Dark and full of chocolate and coffee notes, but surprisingly smooth.

Three Swords
It should actually be three daggers, but that’s Yorkshire folk for you. This utilises three hops to give a good, crisp, citrus hop bite with an appealing dry finish. My favourite of the evening.

Generous George
A rare one-off brew named after a local character “Polish George”, this 6.5% beer has been dry-hopped with Marynka hops. It was described as “unusual” and it was. By Steve’s own admission, it was served rather fresh and will benefit from further maturation. Has the potential to be very good but, as tasted, was too boozy.

Dissolution IPA

Not served at its best: cloudy and yeasty from the cask. However, this recent silver medallist winner at SIBA is a class act normally and if you see it on the bar, I’d recommend trying it.

Served last, this 3.6% dessert beer is brewed somewhere-Steve remained tight-lipped over exactly where-in Belgium. It caused something of a split in opinion. The minority opinion was that it was fruity and refreshing. While the majority felt that the tartness gave way too quickly to a syrupy sweetness. Why not try it and see what you think?
Next month: Hawkshead

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A Tale Of Two Three Four Beer Festivals

Well what a week it’s been for beer festivals locally. By the climatic finale this weekend, there were no less than four major festivals running concurrently. Interestingly, all featured real ale at its best: i.e. served via handpump and with sparkler.
First up was the country’s biggest pub festival at the Hare & Hounds. With around 175 real ales and some 19 ciders showcased over 10 days, this is a major event on the beer festival calendar. There were plenty of obscure and new breweries here to fulfil even the wildest onanistic ticker’s fantasy. However, for me, it was the big guns of Oakham and Magic Rock that were the stars of the show.

Boasting 64 beers all lined up on a bar, the SIBA festival at the Mercure Hotel in Manchester was another that had punters eagerly queuing up. Although it can get warm in the room, if you bag a seat, it’s very easy to while away a few hours there. And beer was sensibly served in a lined glass so you could have your choice of measure. Merlin and Roosters were particularly good here.
Boasting slightly less choice, but no less quality, was the Ramsbottom Oktobeerfest at the Civic Hall. Run in aid of Mountain Rescue, this is in an excellent venue with plenty of eager volunteers to help keep the beers flowing. Brewsters came out top dog at this one.
And then there’s the Wetherspoon festival. Still ongoing, it offers its usual allure of having foreign brewers coming over here to try their hand at brewing real ale. And, as usual, there are highs and lows and quite a bit of mediocrity in-between. The Feral Australian IPA has been a big disappointment, but the Avery 3 Point 5 has been outstanding.

So a rather frenetic week, beer wise. At least I can relax now. Oh hold on, three of them are still on. Beer glasses at the ready, then, it’s time for a final push.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Brewdog Alpha Dog

This is an existential Red Ale. No I don’t know what that is, either. But it’s Brewdog, innit? It’s actually brewed for the Norwegian market; make of that what you will.

This is a very reasonable 4.5% and comes in the standard 330ml bottle. It poured amber with a small off-white head. The aroma was very subdued: a little citrus and some sweet malt. Taste wise, it was also surprisingly subdued. There’s some caramel, a little red berry fruit and a tinge of a dry hop bite.

Look around carefully before whispering it, but this is, dare I say it, a rather dull beer. Not a bad beer, but substantially lacking in substance. Now I know the Norwegians don’t have a particular craving for dull beer, so I’m not sure what the story is here. But if you come to this looking for a Brewdog ass kicking, this isn’t for you.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Camden Black Friday

This is a black Pilsner. Yes, I know, a black Pilsner. What will the crazy kids at Camden come up with next? The idea behind it is quite simple; what if their Hells lager went to the dark side? Execution is slightly more complex, as they wanted the colour without too much roast flavour coming to the fore.

To help keep their dark-but-still-Pilsner plans on track, they added Premiant hops from the Czech Republic and Motueka from New Zealand. Throw that in with a lager yeast and finish off with some dry hopping for good measure. Simples. But does it work?

It’s a 330ml bottle and is 4.8%. It poured black with a frothy mocha head. The aroma was pleasant: a subtle mix of fresh coffee, a little malted bread and a slight roast tang. The beer itself was crisp with clean, distinct flavours. Sweet malt and coffee quickly gives way to a surprisingly dry, lemon-tinged aftertaste.

Sometimes these experiments fail to come off-they look better on paper than they fare in practice. However, this beer is an unqualified success. I really enjoyed it. Somewhat reminiscent of a Schwarzbier, it has a good balance of flavours. But its trump card must be the dry hopping which imparts a very satisfying dryness and makes for a very easy drinking experience.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Bury's Micro Boom

Many bloggers (well me, anyway) have long hailed Bury as one of the great unsung brewing towns of Britain. Because, despite being one of the smallest metropolitan boroughs in the country, it can boast no less than four breweries already. And that figure looks likely to at least double in the coming months.

Yes, Bury looks set to become, according to at least one leading blogger (me again) the Burton upon Trent of the North West. It already has Outstanding, Brightside, Irwell Works and Leyden. Deeply Vale should soon be in production and the proprietor of the First Chop has acquired brewing premises. And then there is the Clarence brewpub to open its doors as well.

But first we must welcome Ramsbottom Craft Brewery which has snuck in under the radar and is already up and running. Under the watch of brewer and owner Matt Holmes, the beers are gaining quite a following locally and are regularly available in the Major pub in Ramsbottom.

At this rate, how long before Bury overtakes Portland as the world’s beer capital? Remember you read it here first.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Book Review: Beer & Cheese by Vinken & Van Tricht

What is better than beer? Cheese. What is better than cheese? Beer. And so it goes on. Combine the two and you create one of life’s pivotal taste experiences. And that is the underlying theme behind this foray into the world of cheese and beer matching.

There has long been something of a dichotomy in the world of food and drink pairing. Wine snobbery, backed by entrenched elements in the industry, holds that wine is the perfect accompaniment to cheese. Port with Stilton: that sort of thing. And yet, as the introduction to this book says, it’s long been known that beer is a much better match for cheese.

The fact is that red wine is too full of tannin to be suitable for pairing with cheese. It overpowers the cheese instead of complementing it. Hence in France, they prefer white wine with their cheese as they know that its lively acid will combine better with the fat in the cheese.

And as it is for white wine, so it is with certain types of beer. Beer can cut through the fat, cleanse the palate and create a harmonious whole. Beer and cheese are a natural union. And finally that has been recognised with a worthy tone that attempts to match fifty Belgium beers with its ideal cheese partner.

The authors are both well respected experts in their field. Ben Vinken is a leading authority on Belgian beer and is the publisher of Bierpassie magazine. Michel Van Tricht needs no introduction to the serious cheese lover. He holds a god-like position in that arena and has brought affinage (cheese ripening to the uninitiated) to new levels.

So how does it work? Well, each beer gets a page photo and a page giving tasting notes and some background history. The same applies to the cheeses-warning: the eye-catching photos will make you salivate-with Michel explaining his reasoning behind the matches.

It’s all done in a very none-too-technical way and it’s the sort of book you can just dip into at random. It makes for great light reading and does make you stop and consider things. And, of course, naturally you start forming opinions of your own. That’s half the fun. Would you pair Hoegaarden with Mount Ventoux? Well, would you?

The great thing is that you don’t have to be familiar with all the particular beers and cheeses. Substitutes are often given as it’s all about trying to match styles rather than brands. It’s this simple, laid-back approach that makes the book very accessible to a subject matter that could have easily been a niche, technical bore.

Frankly a book like this has long been overdue. Any serious imbiber or food aficionado should have this on their shelf. If only to casually leave lying around the next time the local wine snob calls round. And if any publisher is considering a second volume, focusing on English beers and cheeses, please remember that I am available for a very reasonable fee...

Beer and Cheese: 50 Delicious Combinations by Vinken & Van Tricht
Published by Lannoo £28.50

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Ye Olde Man & Scythe

Sad local news with the report that Bolton’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Man and Scythe, has closed unexpectedly. The current Grade 11 listed building dates back to 1636, but the first mention of a pub of that name goes all the way back to the reign of Henry 111 in 1251.

The pub traded as usual on Sunday, but staff arrived on Monday to find the doors locked. Pub owners Enterprise, in their usual sensitive manner, then texted staff to inform them that they were being made redundant. John Madden, who is the co-manager, said: "I’ve worked here for 13 years. We’re all shocked. The pub was open over the weekend including Sunday night and there was no sign of any closure."

Enterprise claim that the closure is only temporary but refuse to give precise details, citing “confidentiality”. I know the pub has struggled of late, particularly after the tragic death of larger-than-life landlord John Jewitt. However, it appears to be still trading well at weekends and I hope that Enterprise aren’t about to call time on this award-winning historic gem.

Monday, 8 October 2012


The dream went something like this,
To the sound of “All the Young Dudes”, a gaggle of crop-bearded, skinny, youngsters dressed in Paisley shirts and custom made brogues descend in a fog of dry ice. Accompanying them is a bevy of beauties who seductively play with their CO2 regulators. Meanwhile, a group of fat, sweating CAMRA types in tight t-shirts and open-toe sandals struggle to roll out the barrel.

As it turns out, it wasn’t quite like that. Which was a shame really. Although there were plenty of beards and even the odd Paisley shirt. Yes, this was the smackdown of the year. Cask v Keg at the beer festival that they insisted on calling a convention.

IndyManBeerCon promised convocation of the beer cognoscenti (that’s people yakking about beer to you and me), quality food and beer served in third glasses-but more of that later. So how was it for this punter and beer festival veteran?

Well the venue was an inspired choice. The Victoria Baths on Hathersage Road is a splendid Edwardian institution that is currently undergoing restoration. The interior is full of little nooks and crannies and some interesting tilework and window decoration.

The beer was split into separate bars for keg and cask and each was hosted in one of the swimming pools. Seating was only in the cask bar, which drew some complaints and I’m not sure how disabled accessible the keg bar actually was; although the building did have accessible toilets.

But what about the beer, I hear you ask? The cask bar had a nice set of handpumps furnishing the bar and the craft-but-keg bar, erm, didn’t. Actually the cask bar had a few clangers on it. Take away the well tried and tested Magic Rock and Marble, and there were a few less than stellar performer here.

The keg bar, on the other hand, was full of heavy hitters such as Camden and Kernel. So a win for keg on quality and choice, undoubtedly. Luck of the draw, I guess, although conspiracy corner was busy with mutterings.

The two most common complaints I heard were about pricing and the glasses. Now we knew it was going to be pricey and so it proved, but something labelled “craft” is, allegedly, supposed to be pricey, so I felt you could roll with that punch.

However, the glasses situation was less tolerable. Only serving in third glasses was nothing short of silly and pretentious. The reason given: that it was to encourage sampling was nonsense. It wasn’t even as if all the beers were strong. And as you could get tasters anyway, there was even less reason for them. That’s why glasses with third lines on them were invented.

The choice for the seasoned drinker, once he had settled on his favourite, to have more than a third should have at least been offered. After all, beer is best enjoyed as a social drink whilst engaged in serious intellectual (or not) conversation. It is not meant for having to piss about and get your glass replenished every eight minutes or so.

Glass debacle aside, the festival convention was much like any other. That is, an enjoyable way to meet old and new friends with an interest in man’s greatest invention: beer. This one had the added bonus of getting to meet some of the faces behind the brews. That is if that’s your thing. Let’s face it; some of those brewers can bore the arse off a donkey. Only joking, lads.

Overall, then, an enjoyable first event that, with a few tweaks, could establish itself on the beer calendar. Whether it had any greater significance, well, I’ll let others be the judge of that.