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

Friday, 28 February 2014

Local News Roundup

Tomorrow is the first day of spring and the spring beer festival season has begun. If one festival isn’t enough for you, you can try two local festivals this weekend. Up in Ramsbottom, the Hare & Hounds has started its 10 day festival. You can expect 24 beers on handpump and 3 ciders. Breweries featured range from the local: Ramsbottom Craft, the fairly local: Blackjack and the pretty far away: Shepherd Neame. An interesting feature is the use of beer miles. Customers collect tokens for every pint they drink and accumulate beer miles based on the brewery’s location.

750 beer miles buys you a free pint and 1500 will get you a tankard. The pub is easily accessible via the 472/474 bus and CAMRA members get a discount on their pint. Whilst in the area, why not pop along to the revamped Fusilier and try some of Allgates’ finest? Also easily accessible by public transport is the Prestwich Beer Festival. Promising lots of local beery delights and an interesting bottle beer list, you can read all about it here.
While on the Hydes brewery visit, talk turned to the Pack Horse at Affetside. This well-known country pub was once a mainstay in the Good Beer Guide but has suffered in recent years from bad management. The good news is that Hydes have taken it back under their wing and spent £900,000 remodelling it. Having now been myself, I can testify that they’ve done a great job; one of the best I’ve seen. And with the beer quality back up to scratch, this is well worth a visit.
Finally, something for the culture vultures among you. Bury has a new art gallery on Bolton St. Worth a visit on its own merit. But particularly noteworthy as today saw the launch of a major exhibition by prominent local artist, Malcolm Lucas. Described in the Daily Mirror as “a castaway from Last of the Summer Wine” Mr Lucas is a well-known man-about-town who is no stranger to the odd hostelry or two. All are welcome, preferably with cheque book in hand.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Weird Beard@PSBH

Another Monday, another meet the brewer at Port Street Beer House. Now tickets for these things are getting harder to get hold of than a leprechaun’s treasure chest. And it doesn’t help when it’s a brewer(y) of renown such as Weird Beard. They’re yet another London outfit knocking out good beer. In fact: very good beer. As recognised by ratings website RateBeer which ranked them 5th best new brewery of 2013. Impressive stuff; no wonder tickets were in short supply.

Our host for the evening was Gregg, one half of the aforementioned Weird Beard. There being no flies on me, I immediately clocked that his beard wasn’t that weird at all. He almost sounded disappointed as he explained that his absent partner Brian was the real weird beardy wearer. Gregg turned out to be an amiable, open guy who encouraged us to approach him to discuss things in more detail. His insights were the sort I like; concise and to the point, thereby leaving more time for supping.
Gregg and Brian were both homebrewers of note before setting up their own brewery and this probably explains why the starting standard was so good. Gregg was converted to the good beer cause (like many a new wave brewer) after a trip to the USA and you can still see that influence in many of their beers. Interestingly he’s also a fan of the Soratchi Ace hop, a hope that seems to have as many fans as detractors.

Little Things That Kill
This is an experimental number. The malt and body stay the same but the hops change at the brewer’s discretion. I can see the appeal in that from their perspective but as a punter I’m not sure I want a beer changing all the time. Having said that, this is the second time I’ve sampled this 3.5% beer and it’s terrific. Definitely one of the best low vol beers out there. This was batch 5 and mixed Galaxy with Soratchi Ace, Summit and Apollo. Some on my table voted it best of the night.

Single Hop Citra Pils
An interesting case, this. Gregg, being honest, admitted this wasn’t right. The bottle version had been ok but the draught version was below par. Indeed when it warmed up there was no mistaking the green apple, acetaldehyde tang. Being a Pils fan, I was ready to be outraged by a Citra bastardisation, but this has real potential. Anyway, it can’t have been that bad as I supped it easily enough.

Five O’clock Shadow
Their classic American IPA rarely disappoints and didn’t again tonight. A good malt backbone gives way to a tantalising blast of Apollo, Citra, Columbus and Summit hops. Never mind 5 o’clock, I could drink this anytime.

Fade to Black
Another interesting one. This is supposed to be a Black IPA. I say “supposed” because Gregg admitted they were aiming for a bit of a dry Stout feel to this beer. Must be the Irish influence. And the blend of Summit, Citra and that old favourite Soratchi certainly leans the beer that way. So is it a classic Cascadian Dark? Probably not. Is it a very good beer, irrespective of style? Oh yes.

Another big favourite of the night. This is a full-bodied Stout that oozes, erm, decadence. Rich chocolate and coffee flavours assault the palate. Which is interesting as there is no roasted barley in it; only the precise combining of 8 different grains. So not only a fine beer but a lesson in brewing, no less.

A very enjoyable evening with some excellent beer. Thanks once again to everyone concerned.

Friday, 14 February 2014

A Trip To Hydes Brewery

Hydes Brewery began its life in the mid 19th century with premises in Audenshaw. It then migrated to Ardwick, Ancoats and then Rusholme before buying the Queens Brewery in Moss Side in 1899. It’s this listed Victorian building that people most associate with the brewery and where, during the Second World War, they changed their name to Hydes Anvil which became a familiar sight around Manchester. But with fluctuations in the brewing world and faced with rising costs and wasted space; the decision was made in 2012 to downsize and modernise.
The result is a £2 million state-of-the-art brewery in Salford, close to MediaCity. Production and Distribution Director, Paul Jefferies, has been with Hydes for quite awhile now and was kind enough to show my little group around. There is actually very little to see because everything is so streamlined, but what there is looks very impressive. It’s a 20000 sq ft unit that used to be a Greenall’s (remember them?) distribution depot. It’s the most automated brewery of its size in the country and boasts a recirculating mash tun and a copper whirlpool that can all be controlled by a Star Trek like computer panel.
Indeed such is the automation that, theoretically, it could all be controlled from anywhere with wifi access. The days of shovelling out the mash tun are over and the only things done by hand are the addition of malt and hops. But Paul was quick to point that this doesn’t mean he gets to put his feet up and brew by remote control. If anything, an operation like this requires a precise eye as the amount of detail and data that you can manipulate is amazing. What the ability to finely control the amount of yeast and monitor each stage does give you is what every brewer strives for: consistency.
Everything is done in-house and barrelage is about 20000 a year, 8000 of which is real ale. Compare that to Hydes' real ale production of 100 years ago: 25739 and 36 gallon barrels at that, and you get an insight into the challenges of modern brewing. Hydes are very much into innovation and their Beer Studio range showcase experimental malts and hops, many of which will not see commercial production. The old brewery had its own borehole but here it’s town water that’s used, albeit treated as Manchester water is simply too ‘clean’.
A very interesting and informative tour which, like all the best tours, ended as it started; in the bar. Thanks to both Pauls-Jefferies and King for such a good evening.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Fusilier: Back From The Dead

Ramsbottom, that little piece of Bury masquerading as Chorlton, continues to grow and grow. Whilst Bury town centre seems somewhat in a slump in terms of quality beer, Ramsbottom has a plethora of the stuff. Indeed the Rammy Ramble has now become a staple of the real ale circuit with the Heart of the Ram, the Railway, the First Chop, the Major and the Hare & Hounds all in on the act. Is there any room for any more, you may ask? Well of course, is the answer. If only someone would do their homework and say buy up an underperforming boozer and give the market what it wants.
Drum roll, please. The Fusilier on Bolton Road West appears to be just that pub. This is a boozer that has been so long off not just the real ale radar, but most people’s radar, that it’s hard to recall when it was actually any good. In fact some people have grown up without ever visiting it. I can recall the good old days, but I think my mother was pushing a pram at the time. Yes, it’s fair to say that this manky, smelly, rough hole seemed destined to go to the great pub scrapyard in the sky. And deservedly so. But then what location, location, location? Perhaps all it needed was some TLC?
So imagine everyone’s surprise when local gossip Uncle Albert reported that the jungle drums were saying that real ale had retuned big time to the Fusilier. A scout was duly despatched and when he confirmed the news; it was time to schedule a visit. In the meantime I had confirmation from the good folk at Allgates that it was serving not one but two of their fine ales. News that a pub had premier league Allgates brews on sent the local bush telegraph into meltdown and soon the big guns were charging there faster than a Liberal Democrat can change policy.
And what a treat awaited us. The place is totally transformed. Dare I say pleasant, even? And the team behind it are Wigan Pier Pubs & Brewery which seems to consist of Mick and his trusty sidekick Simon. Mick filled us in with their plans for global domination whilst Si, a very knowledgeable landlord of the old school, kept us regaled with tales from behind the bar. A very clever trick that as it forced us to keep drinking. Not so much a hardship when you have two Allgates, Wainwrights and 2 guests to choose from. And not crappy ones, either, but good stuff like Crouch Vale.

The plan with the Fusilier was quite simple: back to basics. So the first thing to do was put clean, working toilets in for, as Mick said, women won’t go somewhere where the toilets are unhygienic. And call me fussy, but I prefer a non-smelly, clean lavatorial experience myself. Next the pool table, taking up space and the scene of many fisticuffs, went. And so it went on. Now you’ve got a cosy, comfortable local selling quality ales. Simples, eh? They’re taking it slowly. Trade is building organically through word of mouth; the website will be going live and food will also be making an appearance.

Oh and don’t forget the prices. The Allgates goes for £2.40 a pint and the guests £2.50. Pricing so reasonable that even Uncle Albert, who has his wallet clasp superglued shut, was impressed. It’s early days yet but all the signs are that the Fusilier will be a very significant presence on the local pub scene before too long.
Now if only they would open that second pub a little closer to me...

Burning Sky@PSBH

The last meet the brewer event at Port Street Beer House was an eagerly anticipated affair. Why? Because the brewery was Burning Sky and the brewer was Mark Tranter. For anyone who doesn’t know (what sort of beer geek are you?) Mark was one of the co-founders of the mighty Dark Star brewery. Yes, the Dark Star that gave us the iconic Hophead: a beer that was craft before the term was coined on these shores. So with a pedigree like that, naturally expectations were high.
Of course the first question that springs to most people’s minds is why he would leave an outfit like Dark Star? This Mark addressed as he gave us a walk through on his career and ethos of brewing. Basically he wanted to move on and get stuck into creating something new again. The trouble is with creating an icon such as Hophead, for example, is that you can never tweak it. With Burning Sky he gets to start from scratch but have all his experience guiding him.
So together with former homebrewer Tom Dobson, he is hoping that their 15 barrel plant in a converted stable in the country estate of Firle can produce beers that mix contemporary with the traditional. We got to sample five of these:

Plateau: At only 3.5% this blend of US & NZ hops is what Hophead would be if created today. Quaffable and packed full of hops. My favourite of the evening.

Saison L’Hiver: An interesting 4.2% Saison that is infused with Hawthorne leaves and is surprisingly refreshing. My second favourite of the evening.

Aurora: A 5.6% strong Pale Ale that carefully blends a strong malt backbone and US hops.

Saison a la Provision: A 6.5% Saison with a twist; it undergoes secondary fermentation with a blend of Lactobacillus & Brettanomyces. This was on keg but some should be also be appearing in English oak white wine barrels.

Devils Rest: Named after a nook behind the brewery, this is their full on 7% IPA using a blend of Centennial and Simcoe hops.

Thanks to Mark and the gang at PSBH for the first MTB of 2014.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Breakfast Beer Tasting: Oskar Blues Devinat Dale's IPA

Who says size doesn’t matter? Certainly not the boys at Oskar Blues who decided to put out the brewery’s first 16oz can. That’s a Yankee pint; in case you were wondering.  And that’s a lot of 8% IPA for your buck. For the record and this does sound impressive, there are four hop additions along the way before it’s dry-hopped with Columbus. Salivating stuff, but how does it taste.

It poured an orangey-gold with a good-sized off-white head. It’s got a very resinous aroma: strong grapefruit and orange peel with a definite pine backdrop. It’s medium bodied with a solid malt backbone holding it all together. Oh yes and there are plenty of hops. A real citrus burner that develops into a strong piny bitter edge, but steers clear of being one dimensional. Wonderfully balanced, it’s very tasty, indeed.

Tyson says: Bigger really is better in this case.

Monday, 3 February 2014

First Chop Brewing

If you frequent any of the decent beer selling venues in and around Manchester, chances are that you’ve come across First Chop beers. And the man behind those beers is local man-about-town Rik Garner. He started out working his magic as a chef in the Jam Street Cafe in Chorlton before moving onwards and upwards. The well-regarded First Chop bar in Ramsbottom followed and it quickly earned a following for its regular supply of excellent cask beer and for being the first local stockist of bottled Kernel beers. From there it was a natural progression-whisper it, but the lad does like a drink-to brewing his own. This was initially at Bury’s mighty Outstanding brewery before he could secure premises of his own.
Which brings us bang up to date with his brand new Salford venture on Trinity Way. This is a craft brewery a la Kernel, a la London. Yes, it’s under a railway arch and aims to be more than just a brewery bar. So when Rik asked if I was coming along on its first open day, it seemed rude to refuse. The plan was quite simple: good beer and good food. So we had a choice of several beers on cask and keg and outside the excellent foody offerings of The Moocher (think wild rabbit etc) and Honest Crust (yummy wood-fired pizza) to keep the dark, wet day at bay.
Rik is also seriously into his music so there were live bands on stage in the back room. In fact, it’s already establishing itself on the local music scene with album launches and a DJ at weekends. But back to the beer. The idea of these open days is for First Chop to be paired with another brewery in a mini battle of the beers. On this occasion it was Blackjack. Sadly Rob from Blackjack couldn’t make it but we were able to sample some of his tasty offerings. Rik had chosen his American inspired TEA to go head-to-head with Blackjack Centennial. Obviously to do this contest justice, I forced several of both down my neck. I also enjoyed the (5 hops, what’s not to like?) HOP and the South Island Pale, SIP.
An enjoyable afternoon out and hopefully the first of many. Thanks to Rik and the gang. If you get the chance, give it a visit. Salford is officially the new London.