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

Monday, 30 September 2013

St Georges Hall Festival

On a much larger and impressive scale was the Liverpool beer festival held in St Georges Hall. This is a fantastic Grade 1 listed Neoclassical building that is regarded as one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the world. Full marks to the organisers and Liverpool Council for making it happen. I can well believe the festival programme when it describes it as a “daunting challenge”. The first festival in any venue is always hard and this was particularly ambitious in nature.
With around 300 beers, ciders and perries on offer, it takes a large venue to host that in one room and still have room for the punters. Seating was arranged Germanic bench style, so it was a case of squeeze in and get chatting to your neighbour. One big advantage of this kind of venue is that they have the luxury of having a separate room for the musical turns. Being the St Georges Hall, they had a posh and acoustically sound Concert Room. Sadly for me, it wasn’t the day that the Liverpool Ukulele Orchestra were playing as the Fred Smith Big Band didn’t really do it for me.
The only downside of such a big setup is that the toilets weren’t very close to the drinking area. Still, it did give you a chance to see the sights. No, the only real niggle I had was the, seemingly now de rigueur, practice of forcing a half-pint glass onto you. With plenty of session strength beers available, it’s a nuisance for you and your neighbours to be coming and going every ten minutes. But other than that, it all went well.

Now with such a choice, there were inevitably a few frogs among the princes. There was a lot of good beer, but some dumpers along the way. The locals didn’t fare well, I’m afraid: Liverpool Organic Pale was a diacetyl bomb and Liverpool Craft West Coast Pale tasted like barley water. However, by far the worst was Melwood Citradelic which proved the point that Citra is not a brewing panacea. This was the most un-Citra beer I’ve ever had. Fermented pea soup would have been a more accurate description. Luckily for me it wasn't my choice as it was a virtually undrinkable beer that was only rendered drinkable by the addition of gin!

Beer of the festival: Mallinsons Danger Hops!

MOSI Festival

Last weekend saw the third beer festival to be held at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. The MOSI fest is an interesting one: held in the Power Hall, it gives the visitor the chance to admire the cracking locomotives, jet engine and the generator made in Bury. The downside is it’s a very narrow bar area with virtually no seating, so it gets packed easily and queues can be lengthy. My advice, if you’re planning to go next year, is get there as early as possible.

Beer of the festival: Offbeat Out of Step IPA

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Quality not Quantity

It’s often been said that quality-or rather lack of-is the biggest problem that real ale faces. For far too long it was common for every struggling pub or wannabe bar to bang a handpump or two on the counter in the hope of enticing the wandering imbiber. The problem was that often the bar personnel knew nothing of the product and cellarmanship was lacking. Thereby leading to the old circle of poor quality/diminishing demand. Things have improved somewhat over time. You only have to look at London for testament to that.

However, sadly, problems do persist, whether it is in the beer range itself or just with our old friend, quality. Often this is simply down to having too many beers on. You would think that a professional outfit in the business of selling beer would realise this. But apparently not. Step forward Greene King. The much-loved St Edmunds brewery and pubco have gone down the path of many of their rivals by offering guest beers in their pubs. Well who wants to drink their own beer, right?

This sounds like good news. But are they getting it right? The answer would be no, based on my local experience. The Knowsley in Bury town centre is in a good central position: opposite the travel interchange and potentially in the middle of a decent pub crawl. Having been informed secondhand that they were now offering guest beers, I have been keeping my eye on them. My last visit sums up the problems and pitfalls that shoddy establishments can inflict on real ale and those that seek it out.

Firstly, there was no indication that the place served guest beers. A departure of that nature needs advertising outside and, ideally, in the local media. Even inside there were no point of sale adverts or indicators to tell the customer what was on offer. Which considering that they are offering four guest ales on top of their normal range, doesn’t bode well. Particularly as this is a pub that has struggled to sell much real ale at all. Presumably the proximity of two Spoons undercutting them on price hasn’t helped.

So you have three pumps facing you as you enter and one tucked away right round the corner. Now anyone who has worked at beer festivals will tell you that the tucked away one will always suffer in comparison to the more obvious choices and in a pub environ needs to be clearly signposted. Of the three on the main bar, the first was warm-only a half had been poured that day and tasted pretty poor; like the lines had never been cleaned. The St Austell Tribute (pumpclip stuck on Greene King IPA) was no better and tasted suspiciously like, erm, Greene King IPA.

I went for the hidden pump as it was Ossett Yorkshire Blonde. A good beer. Or it should be. This was pure vinegar and looked disgusting. The landlady claimed it couldn’t be vinegar as it was “a fresh barrel”. This was a barefaced lie as I know for a fact that it was vinegar the week before. On having it thrust under her nose, she concurred that it was indeed vinegar and exchanged it for Tiger which was the best of the bunch, being merely warm and flat. She did not, however, turn the pumcpclip round and that beer was on offer to customers for days afterwards.

This sort of attitude and laziness to cask and customer alike does no one any favours. Unless there is rapid and massive improvement, I can’t see guest beers lasting long here.

Owner of a Lonely Heart

Touring round the numerous breweries of Bermondsey the other day, it was mooted that perhaps the gentlemen of the party could do with shacking up with some local lasses to save the drunken stagger home. An excellent idea, we thought. Perhaps the prospective advert in the Evening Standard could read:
Northern gentleman seeks lady for companionship. Age and looks unimportant but must live close to Kernel, Partisan and Brew by Numbers.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Project R@PSBH

Monday saw an unusual variation of meet the brewer at Port Street Beer House. Yes, the Roosters lads were there and there was beer to be sampled. But it was all the same beer. Well, kind of. The story behind Project R is that Roosters were approached by hop merchants Charles Faram and offered the chance to brew with some experimental hops. Looking round you may be forgiven for thinking that New World hops are the be-all and end-all of the hop industry. However, there is a lot of work going on to develop new strains of European and English hops and shorten the time it takes to bring them to market.

This is where Project R comes in. All the beers on offer were 4% and grounded with Golden Promise malt and Magnum hops with the experimental hops-four from Slovenia and two from England-added two minutes before the end of the boil. We had CF117, CF118, CF119 and...can you guess? That’s right: 121. The two English hops were labelled CF128 and CF130. It’s impossible to make any meaningful comparisons as, for example, the English hops were only hopped at half the rate of the Slovenian. But all the beers were sufficiently different and there was plenty of interaction with the brewers who seemed genuinely interested in feedback.

Another fun evening at PSBH.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

GBG 2014

So the new Good Beer Guide is out. That’s your drinking for 2014 sorted, right?  Last week’s launch was somewhat overshadowed by a spat with the editors of the Good Pub Guide over the future of the traditional boozer. It was something of a no-contest as CAMRA came over all positive and supportive, while the GPG came over all elitist with a rather hackneyed view of the situation. Not good for a publication supposedly extolling the virtues of the British pub. Of course the GPG is elitist and any credibility it may have aspired to went by the wayside when it started charging for entries.

But what about the GBG? Well as I sit here perusing it whilst supping my rather tired pint of Windermere Pale, a few points struck me. Yes, as usual, it does contain articles about beer and pubs and the 4500 pubs chosen by CAMRA members. It’s somewhat economic with the truth on that issue as it mentions the National Beer Scoring System as if that is the universal standard in the selection process. When, in reality, branches have been known to completely ignore it. But I won’t tell, if you don’t.

One interesting aspect is the ever-expanding breweries section. This is proving something of a headache, for the print edition anyway, as the growth in microbreweries tests the finite space that the guide can provide. This is being looked at but for the moment the only solution is to limit the amount of tasting notes. With that in mind, I doff my cap to Spire Brewery and their Brewery Liaison Officer who, by guile or serendipity, manage an impressive ten beers complete with notes.

Now CAMRA often finds itself accused-sometimes with just cause-of ignoring the craft beer scene. And when I say “craft” here, I am of course referring to the keg brewers. Well, in a move that began some editions ago, you will find plenty of these listed in the GBG. Some, like Kernel, can perhaps be justified on the grounds of having produced at least one cask beer. And perhaps some traditionalists can accept Partizan on the basis of bottle-conditioning. But the inclusion of others, with no pretence of being interested in cask brewing, has irked some members who complain it deprives more deserving entries of more space.

GBG 2014. Overall, still worth buying, IMO, but the digital version is cheaper and more portable. However, sad bibliophiles like me will continue to collect the print version.  

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Weird Beard Hit The Lights

Time to gear up for the weekend with something special. An IPA seems the likely candidate. But no ordinary IPA, obviously. Weird Beard are yet another of the seemingly endless supply of London brewers keen to make their mark on the craft scene. Results so far have been very promising and this one boded well. Described as a “mixed up IPA”, it blends English malt with American yeast and Target and Aurora hops. The hop kick is given a boost with the addition of dry-hopping.

It’s a 588ml bottle and comes in at 5.8%. It was very lively and poured cloudy amber with a large off-white head. The aroma was an appealing mix of marmalade, light toffee and a healthy dose of fruity hop notes. Surprisingly this didn’t continue into the beer itself. Instead you are presented with a clean, crisp bitter-rather than fruity-bite that intensifies as it washes over your palate. The American yeast is there to hold back the esters and it works well in that role as the strength is barely noticeable.

Tyson says: All the elements are working in perfect harmony here. The result is an excellent crisp IPA that really delivers a bitter hop punch.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Curry Warfare

Eagle-eyed  curry aficionados in Bury have picked up on the fact that Indian Zest on Bell Lane has quietly renamed itself “Ash’s”. Coincidentally very similar to “Asha” on Tottington Road. Why a not very well-respected takeaway would try to confuse itself with Bury’s premier Indian restaurant, I leave to your imagination.

But to avoid any confusion; Ash’s advertises “High Class Authentic Cuisine” but it is Asha that actually sells it.

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Manchester Wander

Ah Oompah bands, waitresses in dirndls, the sound of clinking steins. But hold on, this isn’t Munich, this is Manchester. The Printworks to be precise. Yes, this is the new Bierkeller that has opened in Manchester’s forgotten “entertainment centre”. It promises a lot in its advertising including, most intriguingly for this beerhound, the “largest world beer selection anywhere”. Suitably impressed, I entered its modest frontage.
The first thing you notice-apart from having two bouncers, I mean door staff, on in the afternoon-is its size. The ground level bar is deceptively small, but once you go downstairs you realise that the place is enormous. Basically it’s a complex of three completely separate bars. Shooters: the sports bar with pool tables etc. The Bierkeller and the Rest of the World bar. All accompanied by gigantic screens to showcase sport. If sports your thing, you’re always guaranteed a good view in here.
But what about the beer, I hear you ask? Well, dare I say that the advertising is a little misleading? There are plenty of fonts, probably some 50 in total, but a craft beer bar this isn’t. More of a case of the usual suspects. Served in plastic glasses, unless you stump up the deposit for a stein. Talking of Germany, the selection from there is pretty mundane with the house beer (£8.20 a stein) being unbranded and Erdinger is about as exciting as it gets. And what serious German bar doesn’t sell Jever?
There are, however, a lot of bottles packed into the large fridges. Here you can pick up the likes of Kolsch, Leffe, Brooklyn, Goose Island and Pale Creatures. All quite punchy, prices wise, it has to be said. Although likely to be busy at weekends, it will be interesting to see how busy this gets midweek as it will take some filling to pay its way.
Another new but more promising opening is the Turks Head at Shudehill. This has been a project long in the making and is still in the early stages. Indeed the paint was still wet when I visited. Narrow fronted, it has a wraparound bar and seating upstairs as well as a rooftop terrace. It’s all looking rather smart with patterned tiling and prints on the walls. And lots of fireplaces. Food and accommodation will also be on offer. Beer wise; the choice was Lees MPA or Pedigree. Hopefully when the other four pumps come online there will be something a little more adventurous.
And that brings us on to the Ape & Apple. This Joseph Holt flagship pub on John Dalton St has had a makeover. In come soft furnishings, light wood and tables outside. The biggest change, however, is in the beer range. Changes in drinking practices and falling sales have forced Holts to re-evaluate their pub estate. Some will become brewpubs and others will become “ale houses” where guest beers will be given equal prominence to their own beers.

This is certainly a sea change for what has been a traditionally conservative family brewer. Indeed rumour has it that if these models are successful, they may exit brewing altogether. The A&A currently has five guest beers on alongside the full Holt’s range and is well worth a look if you are in that area.