The CAMRA Festival Cask-Keg Craft Quandary

Subtitle – A Real Problem (Answer: No, that was just a pun which I felt was too sloppy for the title but I don’t like waste, as trite as it is).

 

So the month of January 2019 saw me visit the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival and, as very usual, the Bent & Bongs Beer Bash

So I still hold that Bent & Bongs is not really a CAMRA festival.  It started with the local Round Table(s), moved on to Bent & Bongs Charitable Trust and whereas it has always had help in every aspect from local CAMRA branches (Wigan, mainly), it doesn’t really push itself as a CAMRA do.

Now Bent & Bongs has always had 3 stalls; right back from my attending at the much missed Formby Hall, which were casks ales, ciders & perries and foreign beers (sometimes with bottles).  2019 saw the introduction of “Craft Corner” where by 10 beers were presented by Keg (and the were keg, not CAMRA “real ale approved” KeyKeg).

Still, having visited the Manchester version from when it was the “Winter Ales” version and then when it moved to the velodrome and almost killed people with the amount of walking required, the set up has been fairly similar, up until the move to GMex (or Manchester Central if you must).

During this rather move the beer scene has evolved (or in-vovled) and so CAMRA, wishing to not miss a trick developed a way of getting Keg (any keg style) into their festival but for sake of brevity (set-up), this year, with the exception of the brewery bars and Irish Bar, the keg were kept in the “Keg & KeyKeg Bar” – note the distinction even here, they should really add Dolium just for the fuck of it too.

Anyway, it was only on the final day of Bent & Bongs I noted the clear distinction between Cask and Craft.

Not anyone’s fault, the terms aren’t mutually exclusive.  Same with real ale, keg, keykeg, or whatever material the cask is made out of.

Or for that matter is the cask it pump or gravity.

But you can only field the “what’s the difference between cask and craft?” question so many times, trying not to notice the glazed look in the eyes of the asker, not from beer but from your own overly long, if technically correct answer, before you just say…

Craft (beer), in the UK, it’s a marketing term.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

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My non-Usual Drinking History…So Far

As I make my way through yet another Bent & Bongs Beer Bash a wave of nostalgia hit me that I feel best to recount, perhaps to realign this blog briefly into a less political state.

I started drinking at around 13 on the fields near mine and my mates houses (parents houses obviously).  Back then it started on stupidly strong stuff like Kestrel Super and Ice Dragon cider, the former of which should never really be drank by anyone with functioning taste buds so as a starting point it could poison your idea of beer from the very start.

We were away from the public, actually quite quiet and respectable of our surroundings.  It took me a long summer of finding the right cans before I first got drunk; two cans of Strongbow did the trick back then, my mates were may ahead having spent each weekend seemingly trying to increase their tolerance a can at a time.

That I’m still mates with most of them, or rather they are still mates with me, highlights that the only evolution on that scale has been that we now go out drinking together in the pub, or around each others houses (our actually own houses because we’re all sensible and grown up and have responsibilities now).

We moved into drinking in pubs at around 16-17, after all there is only a certain amount of time your growing body can get used to drinking alcohol while playing football.

I’m tempted to suggest that my pub experience started in the 2nd wave of keg beer.  After Red Barrel and Double Diamond, I drank up in the Smooth Flow era.  A time of a seemingly Irish beer invasion, where it wasn’t just Guinness of off but Murphy’s, Beamish (red and black), Kilkenny and Caffrey’s, which back then started out at 4.8%.  This went along side Boddington’s launching a “Gold” version, while you could also get Thwaites Smooth, Tetley’s Smooth, John Smith’s Smooth and the personally missed Calder’s Cream Ale.

Can drinking was awash with cans with “widgets” in them; for an authentic creamy pub head in your own home, or in the case of Carling Premier, then need to mop the floor each time one was opened.

I honestly don’t recall much, if any cask at all, nothing of note anyway, that phase only entered my life when I went to university in Bradford.  A place of Flowers IPA for £1 a pint, or the premium offering of Directors (when it didn’t just taste of syrup).

Bradford had the Biko Bar, at the time it was sold as “the only student bar in the Good Beer Guide” – they regularly served cask Moorhouses’ Witches Brew (again before it tasted of syrup) and Younger’s No. 3.

Fun smoking fact about the Biko Bar; it had a no smoking section that was on a raised platform to the rest of the pub.  The pub was basically a rectangle, the platform near the windows and opposite the door, so naturally all the smoke from the rest of the pub went over the non-smoking area and out through the windows. Genius idea.

In fact back then they did a pub quiz on a Sunday, where once a team name was called “What kind of crap pub has a no smoking section” – how times change.

A pub near my halls called The Shearbridge (now a curry house I believe) had regular beer festivals and always sold Skull Splitter and Dogs Bollocks as part of them.

This brings us up to starting going to beer festivals (Bent & Bongs I’d been aware of since my dad started going from its inception) and the fact that I still didn’t really care what I drink, style wise.  Back then it was – oh what’s this 14% beer, Sam-something-or-other.

I write this piece because I’ve realised only necessity has made me “have” a preferred drink. Cans as a kid was lager or cider.  Pubs at the beginning was generally lager, sometimes Guinness.  Cost as a student meant it was Flowers or some random lager.

Going into pubs now, with the choice far more varied than it was, I still don’t have a drink, I’ve never got to hear the bar tender ask “the usual” and I’m wondering if anyone does any more.

Though I think I’m just happy that my usual is the places I go and the people I go with.

 

Thanks for reading.

Track Brew Co Tap Room – Quick Review

I’ve always had a soft spot for Track Brew Co of Manchester.

When I first went to the brewery and talked to the people there, they stated that they fined their beers (possibly not now) which I thought was honest and, given the unnecessary hatred craft people have for finings, a bit of a revelation.

There was also while I attended a beer festival in Leeds, the first brewery to DM me via twitter and as a fledgling beer blogger I felt that I’d “arrived,” it was the little things back then, when things were bright and new and even innocent.

So I was quite happy to hear that they were opening their own tap-room.

64 Chapeltown Street Manchester M1 2WQ.

The third floor of Crusader Mill.

Given that I’d walked from The Smithfield (and Crown & Kettle) and was coming from an unfamiliar and unplanned route I was happy that I stumbled upon it so easily and that it was well enough signposted (within the mill complex) when I got there.

Built into an area that struck me as a modern and posh version of back-to-back housing for the easily impressed, after what was about a mile of walking I was then faced with the interminable hike up narrow, short-spaced stairs.

Still, I knew that while there would be no cask (and Track cask is rather good), their keg can be just as rewarding.

The floor was reached, the smell of street food hit my nostrils and the warm heat and sound of a fair few people all gassing away greeted my senses.

The drink area was fairly bright, a bit industrial-chic but pleasant and it is a mill so to be expected.  Seating was very much long tables, like a beer hall.

I walked over to the bar it was wooden, naturally, and the list of beers was clearly written as was the pricing.

I studied the list and made my choice.

 

I then saw “THIS IS A CASHLESS VENUE”

 

I went to another pub.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Lets Drink – To the Beat (nikz Republic) & Northern Monk MCR

Well that was an interesting day out in Manchester and so now let your favourite performing monkey and conduit for your own negative opinions vent so you don’t have to.

I like Beatnikz Republic and I like Northern Monk.  I’ve been to the NM refectory in Leeds and visited the tap at Red Bank that is Beatnikz’s gaff.

The places themselves are OK.  Despite one my friends describing it as “like Terminus from Walking Dead” I preferred BR’s space.  Clean and simple, still with far to much “industrial chic” that makes it look like every other place that opened an IKEA catalogue and stuck pens in items while wearing a blindfold, I thought that it was well laid out and, most importantly, the board was bright, easy to read and straight forward.  It shares it’s space with Idle Hands – a coffee house.

Oh and the beer was good too but I’ll come to that later.

Northern Monks gaff was a bit more, meh.  It was never going to recreate the school canteen surrounding of the Leeds branch and to be fair the staff, bar one I recognised previously from Piccadilly Tap, showed very much nous about service.  Then again I was never a big fan of Kosmonaut, which itself fell is standards massively after what would appear the main man that ran it so well went over to run the then newly reopened Smithfield.

Northern Monk Manchester is about 30 seconds from Beatnikz and it next door to Takk – a coffee house.

NM’s beer list is small and though clear a bit too far away for the size of the letter used in the spelling out of the beers on sale.  Couple that with a vibrating bar floor (hi-vis jackets were seen so I assume this was short term building work) and glasses that were like the stupid butt-plug one but without the base (the glass of choice if you ordered 2/3rds) again the beer could not really be faulted, but I’ll come to that later.

It was then off to the all Caucasian, racially pure paradise that is Grub.  I can’t comment on the beer as such but I will say, if you are going to serve anything in semi-darkness on a high blackboard please, for the sake of sanity…

WRITE THE SALE ITEMS IN FUCKING BLOCK CAPITALS.

I then raced around to try out Ol Nano Brewery on Oxford Road.  Its in an area under the Mancunian Way that became a bit of a tent city, so thankfully all of the scruffs and bums have been moved on to be replaced by card payment only wooden enclosures – and a coffee house.

I then went in The Salisbury, had a nice pint of well kept but typical Robinson’s fare to the tunes of Pantera & Megadeth and all seemed right with the world.  I was away from the zombie hordes of students and no cash places, of wood and metal and twatty glassware and dicks who think coming into Manchester to spend money on tat from Christmas market stalls that aren’t even from the local area is a brilliant way to spend a Saturday.  I don’t know how far I was from a coffee house.

I then went round to The Brink, was treated to the last remaining cask and kegs of Cloudwater’s takeover (takeovers – pointless) and then settled down with a nice cask pint of something from Pomona brewery.

Beer Thoughts

I’ve written before about keg beer sometimes (most of the time) being too cold for certain beer styles and this day proved to have no deviation from that train of thought.

Or rather, all the cask beer I had pissed on it quality wise, which should in fact speak highly for all the places mentioned who did indeed present their cask beer very well.

Case and point was the Torrside Dogs of War presented on keg at Grub.  A solid drink, kindly bought by one of my friends and at 10% it isn’t something you can put on cask and hope to sell in a 12 hour period (maybe a pin perhaps) so keg makes sense financially but stylistically it did a disservice to the beer which no amount of hand warming could help.

Also, for the record, I’m wasn’t all that taken by the Cloudwater India porter on cask, preferred their keg offerings, speaking from the point of view of a lover, not an authority, of porters.

 

“A brewery bar, a brewery bar, wood and metal and a brewery bar

Coffee House, Coffee House

Wood and metal and a brewery bar.”

 

Thanks for reading.

 

In Defence of the Untappd User

Not that they need defending, or that I’m the one to do it, or that I’m going to, I’m just throwing my own thoughts on to the sophistry fire created by gig journalists freelance beer writers.

There are a few things that do annoy me about Untappd, aside from its a free app that is tracking you and probably selling your data on to 3rd parties but they are privacy issues that even I’ve put behind me because as private as you want to be you can never go off-grid.  Or that they kowtowed to the permanently offended.

I digress.  If we forget those twitter accounts that continually auto-tweet each check-in, or even more strangely, the brewers and bar owners that retweet these most intellectually amputated of reviews then there is one bug bear I do have.

Its the less than 2.5 (50%, out of 5 star) reviews of beers that the user always says “not really my thing.”

Don’t rate if it isn’t your thing.  It isn’t hard, you don’t lose out on scaling badge mountain by not rating something you’ve had but not really liked.

I’ve chastised some of my friends for this.  One friend doesn’t like dark beers but will have them when offered (all hail the taster badge) and then rate them at about 2 stars, like a vegan eating a bacon sandwich, not really their thing but I suppose you then don’t have to listen to self-righteous views of why it shouldn’t be your thing either.

My mates love lager.  Wholesale macro, corporate, multinational, lager.

They went to the odd beer festival and tried a few casks but would always gravitate to either bastard strength bottled stuff or any generic foreign lager that was for sale.  Then they joined Untappd and the gamification (sorry) of drinking appealed so much that they not only now drink anything and everything but they go everywhere and anywhere to drink anything and everything and they shop everywhere and anywhere to buy anything and everything to drink.

This isn’t to belittle them, they have and always will drink lager, as will I and I can guarantee they spend more money and time in beer and in pubs that any other beer writer, brewer or snarky twitter user out there, so damn right they should get a badge or two…thousand.

There is a certain sneering that can accompany any “normie” drinker.  There are twitter accounts dedicated to laughing at the odd reviews some people leave and whereas these can be entertaining, there always seems to be some sort of belittlement in the reviewer simply because they “don’t get” the beer they review.

Thankfully, we still live in a democracy (for now) and Untappd it very much the demos in effect, unbound, unfazed and unimpressed.

All hail the Untappd user, fucking up your average beer score since 2010 (and that isn’t including the brewers fake checking-in to boost their score and lower their rivals – beer people are good people).

 

Talking of reviews – back when the internet was actually fun there were reviews for this Paul Ross Canvas that I’d visit to get a chuckle from.  It still works its magic to this day.

 

Thanks for reading.