Friday, 29 May 2015

Manchester Brew Expo

I haven't read much about this event in blogs and was expecting the Manchester bloggerati to save me a job, but looks like I'll need to help shoulder that burden.

What is it I hear you ask? Well it's a collaboration between some of the newer and maybe trendier Manchester brewers to "celebrate our brewing community". And why not? While London is getting many of the plaudits, up here in Manchester we have been getting on with it for years and produce, dare I say it, beers that are the equal of the best London breweries and in fact, much better in many, many cases. There were two events - one for breweries near Piccadilly Station and one for those in what was called the Green Quarter - a term I have never heard of - but turns out to be the area near Victoria Station. So that's all good. I bought into the Saturday one which was the Piccadilly gig. A tenner got you a drink at five breweries, a map of brewery locations, a badge to wear and a fetching pint glass to add to the too many I already have. Still, even if it did mean lugging it about, it meant drinking out of a decent glass. That's good too.  The price was excellent value as it included, should you wish, brewery tours, tastings and the like which had to be pre-booked. Well done on that front.

I started at the new Cloudwater Brewery which I was keen to see. Now I've been to countless breweries and they can pall after a bit, but I am a sucker for stainless steel and I'd seen the photos of this bespoke plant.  In a very large warehouse type unit it certainly looked the part and I joined a party that was being given the spiel by one of the brewers, Paul Jones and enjoyed what was an informative and interesting discussion which included sampling some beers straight from conditioning tanks.  Quite a novel feature and while I liked some beers, I wasn't so keen on others. In particular the sours didn't do too much for me, but maybe with age in a bit of oak that might well change.  I did really enjoy the Märzen, brewed in collaboration with Camden, which had the mouthfeel and colour of the style with a very clever touch of hopping to lift it to a much higher level. I really appreciated too the chance to talk with Paul afterwards. As well as being a thoroughly nice fellow. He has some fine ideas about brewing.  The whole place exudes professionalism and it is done with charm and appeal. I liked it.

After a few (too many) more Märzens and a chat to Manchester Beer Royalty in the form of Beer4John, I was joined by E and we set off on the fairly long trek to Ardwick and Squawk Brewery. We liked it there - oddly homely - with an unusual assortment of mismatched second hand sofas and chairs, it was a comfortable (if very quiet setting) in which to enjoy our beer. Cask and keg on offer here and the beer was very good.  Breweries came thick and fast then with Privateer where I enjoyed cask Dark Revenge, a railway related discussion with the brewer and a loll outside in the sun with its shades of Bermondsey Beer Mile -  but again very quiet in terms of customers, Alphabet which was much busier with Expo Explorers awaiting the "Meet the Brewer" and tasting event.  Keg only these I recall and not really to my taste, though I did enjoy the atmosphere here, with plenty of room and street food.   Finally and very near Piccadilly Station was Track (cask and keg here) where we again bumped into Mr Clarke propping up the bar. I can't tell you which beers I had in the the last two as when I'm enjoying myself, my notebook, as usual, didn't leave my pocket - one of the many reasons I am one of the least reliable reporters of beery events around.  Also, I may or may not have had one too many by then. I'm not saying

All in all a good day out. Superb value for money especially if you signed up for tours and tastings and if they do it again, count me in. I'll be sure to fire up my notebook too.

Oddly apart from a few CAMRA types, mainly at the first and last breweries, I met hardly anyone I know. It was though a pleasure to see so many enjoying the beers and talking and learning about the process.

As you see from the photo London Murky is present in Manchester too. Fortunately only in one brewery.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Big Brother is Watching Everyone

We often see the Health Lobby (whoever they may be) producing blood curdling statistics about alcohol and how it is killing us all.  The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have been at it too. This time the target is Germany who as we know have had an economy blighted by alcohol from time immemorial and are an economic basket case. Oh. Wait a minute. They aren't. 

Seems though that while Germans have cut down in the last few years  to a figure of 11 litres of alcohol per head – 1980's figure was 16.5 litres of pure alcohol – they're still exposing themselves to a lot of health risks by overindulging.  So a pattern emerges that we are all familiar with.  The trend is down but there is still a call to do something about it. In this case the recommendation is to put the price up as there is "a lot of slack in Germany's tax and regulatory framework". The report goes on to talk about mythical potential lives saved (45,000 in Germany), but we all know these kind of stats have to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. There is an admission that to increase prices and restrict availability would affect the innocent as well as the guilty (and this is a worldwide recommendation) and that "This is not a question that economics can answer, each country will have to weigh the evidence in their own circumstances.” 

Well forgive me, but this is an economic question as well as a social one.  It seems though that there is a problem in Germany. Intervention by doctors at an early stage would cost $228 million dollars more than continuing with existing policies which have seen the large reductions in consumption.

Pick the bones out of that.

If you really feel depressed you can read the full report hereIt is only 240 pages long.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Down the Hatch

Among the stuff kindly sent to me last night and referred to here, I was sent this poster of the Saddleworth Beer Festival.1985  Hand designed and quite nice really. Notice the drain on the left hand side of the road. I quote my benefactor about this particular festival.

"The Saddleworth poster has a drawing of the front of the building as you approach up the street, however the significant part of the drawing  for those in the know, was the grid at the side of the pavement on the left. This related to an incident after the Sunday lunch time drinking up session the previous year when a young lady had got rather drunk in the two hour session and instead of using the toilets at the entrance/exit had decided to sit down on the pavement outside and have a piss in the grid. As there is a panoramic view from the window in the hall, this was witnessed by several of the members who were clearing up."

Things weren't always easy in the old days you know.

I have loads more of this old toffee. It'll serve you right if I post it.

Real Lager Back in the Day

Boak and Bailey have an interesting article on the issue of the CAMRA view of lager many years ago. They are right to point out at the start of it that it is more than one of simply regarding lager as "fizzy piss."

Last night I received the attached scan from our Regional Treasurer who was involved with Bury Beer Festival back in 1980.  The list of beers is interesting and it is is gratifying to see that of the 12 breweries (an amazingly modest number by today's standards) no less than 5 remain in production.  That however is not the main point of me reproducing the original programme.  If you look down to Lees there is a lager offered for sale. With an explanation.

Mudgie is always banging on about the poor quality of the lagers produced by regional breweries and he is, in the main right. These were really ales - Kolsch like - in that they were warm fermented by top fermenting (ale) yeast and then cold conditioned before pasteurisation and kegging.  Some were truly awful.  Lees had Tulip Lager and while now, in a modern lager brewery, they produce excellent lagers, it wasn't always the case.

My contact does not say if the thirsty hordes, no doubt including CAMRA members, in a fit of nihilistic doctrinal purity, refused to drink it, though somehow I doubt it. Beer Festivals were still a bit rare in those days.

Click on the image to enlarge. I was also sent an amusing tale which I'll publish soon.


We are always being told by the anti drink lobby of  "alcohol fuelled violence", but I have remarked here and in comments hither and thither that I can't remember the last time I saw a fight in a pub.  Well I can now. Sort of.

On my usual Wednesday out at the Regal Moon in Rochdale last week I was vaguely aware of a young woman sitting with an older man in shorts. I was waiting for the rest of the lads and, as you do, I scanned round to see what's what. They were chatting amiably and I wondered for a second if he was her father.  Then when my friends arrived, I forgot all about her and everyone else in the pub, but did notice her and the older guy moving tables as they joined another two men at a table in front of us.  That was that until an hour or so later.  I hadn't noticed them moving yet again, but a sudden shout arose to our right and I turned to see aforementioned guy falling backwards to measure his length on the floor.  The Duty Manager rushed over and within seconds the guy was heading for the door.  It transpires that when a row arose, he and the girl stood up and the girl laid him out with a single punch. She left through the other door.

An unusual incident I think you'll agree. I'm still guessing though that it will be a long time before I "see" a fight in a pub again.

No. I have no idea what this was all about and I didn't see the actual punch or know why she felt it necessary.  I'm passing no judgements here at all. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cantillon Brewery

Despite having been to Brussels quite a few times, I've never been to Cantillon, mostly because E hadn't fancied going. She doesn't like sour beer.  This time we are with others who are well up for it, so off we go.  We arrive reasonably early when there is just a handful of people inside the brewery which looks pretty damn unassuming from the outside. Inside we pay a modest €7, have our nationalities noted in a ledger and are given an informative leaflet and a family member takes the three of us (the rest arrive later) round the lower reaches of the brewery. Now I have read elsewhere that is is fusty, dusty and cobwebby, which I have always doubted.  It isn't. It is spotless as any brewery should be, but just rather old, dimly lit and made largely of wood.  It is intensely atmospheric.

We are shown a very elderly mash tun which wasn't the original, being acquired in 1936. I ask my intelligent question "Did the Germans not steal any of the copper during the war?"  Now this isn't as daft as it seems, as they were a light fingered lot the Germans, during occupation. They didn't it seems, though our guide doesn't know why not.  Maybe the sense of tradition fazed the occupier? Or the almost church-like reverence the place exudes? Who knows, especially as there is a fair bit of copper to be had.

After that we are left to wander around. We look at the cool ship, empty and gleaming. This is key to the whole business and where the wild yeasts do their stuff. I remember my second intelligent question and ask it when I have the chance "Does the fermentation vary by much in its quality and taste?"  Surprisingly it is very consistent I'm told. These wild yeasts seemingly know what is expected of them. We wander round, following directional signs, looking at huge oak casks and return to the bar and shop.  Our €7 entitles us to two samples  of around 15cl.  First up is a cask 18 month old (young) lambic which is flat as a witch's tit with quite a few jaggy edges. E hates it, so I have two. It needs more age and frankly I prefer gueze anyway for its more refined character.  The shop, by now boosted by quite an influx of new customers, is going like a fair. I reckon it makes more money than the €7 admission. The prices for the beer are very fair but I didn't intend to lug bottles back, so passed, which I kind of regret now.  Our main group arrives and swells the shop's coffers further - well the clothing part of it. I'd always wanted a Cantillon T shirt, but in my size they only have two types of brown and green in stock. E, not so subtly puts me off both.  Apparently neither would suit me. I must go back and get one sometime.

Next we sample a bottled kriek which is a tremendous beer, with the cherries and natural carbonation lifting the beer and giving a very satisfying and balanced taste. Again I get E's.  As we wait for the other, I buy some more kriek by the glass. This is a mere €2.50 and the glass is filled to the brim by a smiling gent who explains "When you pay, you get a glass as full as I can fill it."  An excellent policy.  I also have a taste of cask Iris which unusually has no wheat within, just barley.  Not a great experience really. It may well be lifted by carbonation, but it was just flat and to me, Sarson's like.

Cantillon is an experience not to be missed if you are a serious beer drinker. Even if you aren't it is living history.  Go there if you can.

It seems that 70% of the visitors to Cantillon are not Belgian. That's why the collect this info.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ça Me Goûte

I was in Belgium at the weekend. Brussels to be precise. Belgium is a nice place with nice Belgian people. They speak better French in Brussels than the French do - well more slowly at least - so you can actually make out the words that one vaguely recollects from that Higher Exam paper (I got a B) around forty five years ago. They also appreciate you conversing in French which is more than the French do. They don't tut at your linguistic attempts.  Nor do they charge you around €10 for 25cl of brassoesque beer in an empty cafe that is empty because nobody in their right mind will pay their prices.  The Belgians au contraire brew jolly nice beer at very reasonable prices in bustling pubs and bars. I like Belgium and I like the Belgians. (Actually in truth I quite like France - it's just the French I have a down on, probably caused by the two weeks of non stop rain I had cycling there many years ago and being grotesquely overcharged by a rugby playing bar owner on my last and most recent visit.)

Oh and back to my slightly xenophobic theme, I was nearly pick-pocketed by one of the Moroccan guests of Belgium who, under the guise of asking directions (ho ho), tried to dip my back pocket.  As I was expecting such a ploy, he got nothing but some invective. It crossed my mind to give the little shit a smack, but I dismissed it instantly on the assumption that many of his chums would be, shall we say, watching the outcome of his felony with interest. (And of course because I is very old and would certainly have come off second best.) That aside, we had a great time. I renewed my love of Orval, drank lots of gueze and lambic, ate some bunny rabbits, had a very peculiar Eritrean meal (don't ask) had the opportunity (which I didn't take up) to have profiteroles and chocolate sauce with (or as) my breakfast, walked bloody miles and generally enjoyed myself immensely in some great pubs with great company.

And Eurostar is just brilliant. Far better than flying and you can take your own booze, though I only did 50% of the time.

The title phrase is Belgian French for I like it. It only really refers to food, but hey. It's my blog. 

Next, Cantillon  Brewery and more.

Thursday, 7 May 2015


Like my good friend Jeff, I've been busy lately, hence the silence.  I'm off to London in a few minutes, but I just thought I'd let you know that Oldham Beer Festival was a success and the Mayor will make lots of money for his charities.  I met him too and a nice fella he is.  I also got my photo in the Oldham Chronicle (not for the first time) and was complimented several times on my beer quality.  That's all good.

The winner of the popular vote for beer of the festival was Flaori Maori from Ramsbottom Craft - well deserved too as it was good.  I also enjoyed from the same brewery, my own Chocolate Chilli Stout which did well in the voting.  I believe the runner up was Roosters Baby Faced Assassin.

The beers went down well and most were pretty good. I enjoyed the majority of them but will mention a few that I thought really good. Both Hardknott beers, Infra Red and Lux Borealis were excellent.  I think Lux may have been third in the voting, but don't quote me on that.  Portobello Northern Line Stout was good and Redemption Pale Ale was quite enjoyable, as was Track Mazuma.  I drank a fair bit of Lees MPA too and that stood up well.

Sorry this is a bit rushed, but tomorrow I'm off to Brussels and will no doubt report back.

I drank a fair bit of left over perry on Sunday at a family party. Good stuff and no hangover.  And we cleared the hall in two hours on Sunday. Many hands do make light work!

Photo shows my sample of Chocolate Chilli Stout from Ramsbottom Craft Brewery