They Fear Cask Beer Round Here

Subtitle: Anecdotal evidence on the continuing tribulations of cask beer.

Yes, the title is used for the rhyme and not for casting any aspersion on the drinkers I observed.

 

A few years ago I was in my local chippy when the bloke in front of me requested a chip barm* in his order.

“We’ve got no barms left I’m afraid” came the response from the server “but we’ve got bread if that’s OK for you?”

“It’s not brown is it?” came the worried follow-up from the customer.

I still vividly recall the trepidation in his voice, I pictured that after a hectic week his Friday treat of a chippy tea was about to get less rewarding as it would feature non-white bread.

Let’s be honest, brown (and wholemeal) is fine for toast and sandwiches but for a chip or crisp butty it is both pointless and akin to those people who order lots of food in a take-away and then insist on a diet drink (not that you get much choice of avoiding the bitter, chemical drek the sugar tax has forced the big chains to make).

No one likes the taste of diet soft drinks really; just like no one likes the taste of highly processed bread that isn’t white, and thick, doorstep thick.  If you’re going to treat yourself, do it right.

Sunday just gone I had the pleasure of travelling to York (visited many times before) to watch Leigh lose by 1 point in the championship division of rugby league.  I’ve travelled far further to see Leigh lose by 1 point (and by far more) but I’d never been to the Bootham Crescent ground before.

 

As a side note, it should be noted the Leigh’s home ground now only serves bottles and cans (poured into plastic cups) at the ground on match days, the time of even keg beer has passed it would seem.  To be fair all grounds I’ve been to only serve keg beer, with the exception of The Shay in Halifax.  Though all the grounds to make an effort to re-badge known brands as their “own” – so if you’re a ticker or are on Untappd, maybe trek along on a match day.

It should also be noted that drinking can still occur on the terraces of rugby matches and on the supporter coaches too so go fuck yourselves, South Ayrshire Police (and nanny Scotland in general).

 

We had arrived not in enough time to get to any pubs in the centre but in enough time to grab a few at the closest venue which was York Burton Lane Club it is always gratifying to find a Whatpub entry that is incorrect as they were serving cask beer, so York branch may wish to update this page sometime and look after your clubs as much as your pubs.

Paying a £1 entry as a non-member I clocked the rather obvious poster, which were also behind the bar, highlight that they had A Knight’s Ale by  local microbrewers Isaac Poad for only £2 a pint.  They also had John Smith’s (bitter) on cask too as well as a variety of Sam Smith’s keg amongst the usual standard lagers and ciders.

I’m always slightly trepidatious myself about cask beer at a certain price; it is on the turn and they are just trying to shift it and being in a strange environment with a horde of other piling in behind me I wasn’t about to ask to try it first (not that I actually do anyway, just go for a half, that’s a taster).  So a pint was ordered and very good it both taste and condition it was too.

But the conversations I heard around the bar reminded me of the aforementioned chip shop incident.

“Pint of bitter please” was a regular cry (other than “pint of lager” of course).

“Cask or smooth” was the barmaid’s reply, not even attempting to ever push the guest ale (which I suppose wouldn’t count as a bitter per se but still…)

“Smooth…smooth” were the numerous, convulsed replies.

Stick with what you know I suppose, price isn’t really an object in a rushed environment when you’re on a day trip.

Scanning the busy drinking area there were a few on the cask, I’m not going to put a number on it, nor what the average age of the clientèle was as this is just anecdotal.

 

But if you can’t shift cask beer at £2 a pint to the thirsty; then really, is it a premium product that can attract top whack and are those breweries that sell it for less really creating a rod for the backs of themselves and every other brewer?

 

Thanks for reading.

 

*barmcake, bap, cob, roll, batch, muffin, teacake, etc.

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Opening Times (CAMRA) Poynton Pootle – Addendum

No, my name is not Graham Privett and I did not write this rather good piece about Poynton.

Link to all issues.

http://www.ssmcamra.co.uk/OTfiles/402jan19.pdf

Having picked up the Jan/Feb 2019 edition of Opening Times, the Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA branch magazine, I was at once happy that someone reviewed Poynton, saving me the effort but also a bit miffed they’d missed a few things, though I expect this was due to time constraints and the shit public transport in and out of it.

The main jist of my piece would be that Poynton offers a pub/bar for every drinking occasion, even the Acoustic Lounge for live music and later night drinking (that still manages to keep and turn over 2 cask lines).

I’ve written about Vine Hop before but the piece missed out (The) Bull’s Head.

But before I get on to that I’ll just talk about the Poynton Wetherspoons called The Kingfisher – another good Spoons pub which has the neat trick of showing off the casks in a windowed, sealed off room visible to the whole pub.  A nice gimmick, until you realise just how far from the bar the casks are and just how much pythonage must be going on and condition that could be lost from the beer pulling it through those long lines.  A minor quibble, but beer blogging lore dictates that a Spoons establishment must be mentioned in all pub related posts.

So on to (The) Bull’s Head

As you can see from the above link this is a pub that still very much has “older pub times,”  closing in the afternoon and reopening in the evening.  It is a bit of a way out of Poynton, on the way to Hazel Grove and the new, and refreshingly dangerous junctions with the new A555 bypass taking up to High Lane, Disley and beyond.

But I digress, there isn’t much I can add to the beer choice, local in its range (Red Willow, Storm Brewing, etc.) very much a Macclesfield-Cheshire and beyond feel rather than the “oh, another Manchester brewery again, how different” selection you can get in many of these “highly recommended” pubs that fall in the Stockport postcode.

It is just the feeling I got when I walked in the place, it makes it worth the walk out from the main bulk of Poynton pubs, it feels warm and friendly, the kind of pub you’d like to be snowed-in in.

The beer is always well kept, the only downside is the soft drinks/mixers are poured out of pop bottles but that doesn’t really affect me.

Most off all they have quite a few awards from the local CAMRA branch, which I can’t ever read because they store them behind their spirit range.  Who needs awards when people know the pub is good.

 

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.

 

The Pointlessness of Beer Vials

Inspired by this post by “Retired Martin” not due to any reason other than the first picture in it.  It has been a while since I visited The Beer School in Westhoughton and I noted on said picture that they are now using 100mL conical flasks with rubber bungs to show off their cask beer.

The scientist in me loves that little quirk, fitting in well with the school theme the micropub actually has.

The drinker in me questions the whole entire need for it.

For starters, I can’t even recall if they used what I’m dubbing beer vials previously (if there is another more common or proper term, please let me know and I’ll actually change the title of the piece) as I never noticed before.

If you walk into quite a few pubs many seem to think that these little vessels, usually small Kilner jars (TM – other brands are available) that putting a small amount of each beer in them and putting them in and around the specific beer engine is helpful.

Maybe it is but not to me it isn’t and I’ve yet to see any good reason why they would be to anyone else.

First of all they create unnecessary clutter on a bar top.

Secondly, that is extra washing up for the staff, assuming they are cleaned.

Thirdly, are they filled each day the beer is available or just sit around as long as the beer is on, because if they are about showing of the clarity of each cask then I’ve seen plenty with more sediment in them that the usual Kernel bottle.*

My fourth point would be if it is to show the colour to prospective punters then, again it would seem like a dreadful waste of beer and effort for little reward; it would also seem to be there so as to not give the customer chance to engage in a chat about each beer with the server, which at busy times is probably useful, but if you are confronted by someone who can’t gauge what colour a beer is from the pump clip, assuming the style is mentioned on the thing, then perhaps writing it on the blackboard is probably the best option.  Or using funny little drawing depicting the colour of each beer, which I like, again assuming many things, first and foremost that your bar is well-lit enough.

When it comes to colour, just how much can you gauge from a small sample of each beer, I refer to the rather ironically named Beer-Lambert law, which, if I remember correctly, relates to the fact that the small volume of liquid in a compact area will make it appear more concentrated than it actually is, i.e. the darker it will appear.

Also let us not forget apart from colour and clarity, sitting on a bar top at ambient conditions isn’t exactly akin to a well-managed cellar temperature.

 

So taking all that into account, really, what are they for?

 

The final poser is; they are only ever used for cask beer, why aren’t these vials ever used to show off keg beers?

 

 

Thanks for reading and despite planning another post, if I don’t before, have a Merry Christmas.

 

*I love Kernel beers, don’t ever think sediment is a “bad thing”

 

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.

 

Zwanze – Beer Fools and their Money

This is a piece about observations and should not reflect on either the business or the brewery and their practices as they can do what they want.

Just like people can spend their money on what they want but this event just confused me, that is was something I’ve never heard of should suggest that I write from a place of ignorance, so be it.

Wiki History

I’d gone into Manchester, the first time in a while, for a drink and a large bite to eat.  On a tour of brewery taps, mainly due to location this was Runaway and the first and still the best Blackjack

It was here I bumped into a man who knows his beers and he mentioned he was off to Pilcrow for a beer tasting he’d got a ticket to.

I’m no fan of the Pilcrow.  For all its hand-made, locals-gave-their-time-and-labour ethos, it has always struck me as cold and efficient and all very, very cynical but as one of the party I was with hadn’t been, for the sake of plurality we trekked along and I was surprised at what I saw.

First it was busy, heaving in fact.  All seats taken inside and it was also very full in the courtyard.  I got a drink (as expensive as I’m sure the rent for this place is) and sat outside mulling it over when I bumped into yon mon again.  He’d been to a separate token bar and treated himself to a couple of other Cantillon beers and the Boon.

 

That’s £2.50 for a third but if you’ve been to IndyMan you’re used to this pricing structure/one measurement only thing.

The beers were nice; I realise nice can seem like it is damning with faint praise but that is all they were nice, above average but then again this wasn’t the main event.

Not knowing what was going on I was then surprised to see a queue start forming, snaking out of the door and around the table I was perched at.

It was a queue I’d not seen since the likes of Port Street and any number of other bars where people have a curious notion of what it is to wait at a bar for service.

It was then explained that it was 8pm and this is when the Zwanze 2018 goes on sale.

The queue went pretty fast as people with blue wristbands came out with their lovely branded glasses and their 1/3s of this brand new beer.

The cost of this little extravaganza…

£12.

Twelve quid for 1/3 of beer (5.5%) and a glass that some would end up forgetting.

Though some were lucky enough to have got to the newly opened Northern Monk gaff and had a suitable tote bag all ready bulging with glassware.

My beer expert pal was totally under impressed.  Being rather wry about the experience he did mention that he probably could have got it a damn sight cheaper from the places he regularly visits in Belgium but where as he was happy to attend he wouldn’t do it again.

It was at this point I was asked by a bloke with a most unsubtle Yorkshire twang where Victoria Station was.  I motioned it was a minute away, then thought that if you were planning a night out, always work out how and where you get home from.

Then I thought that given the bullshit with striking guards and the incomplete timetable Northern Trains are currently working to because of this (and numerous other UK train crap bollocks shit nonsense) that it probably would have been cheaper and quicker for said Yorkshire gent to have gone to Brussels to try the beer.

Fifteen minutes later was when then next and most startling observation occurred.  The whole place had emptied.

The inside was still well seated but no one was standing about and the outside looked like something from the Walking Dead.

It was eight thirty in the PM and that was Zwanze day.

A collective shrug was given as we said our good byes and went off to a far better drinking establishment.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Chatting in Micro Pubs/Bars – A Guide

Inspired by this post from Richard Coldwell and the initial comment from “Dave”

First of all we need to define the difference between what is a Micro Pub and what is a Micro Bar

“All pubs have a bar but no bar has a pub”

Note: this guide assumes the location of said micro outlet is in a small-to-medium sized town, not a city or tourist trap/destination.

Micro Pub

The Drinks

The emphasis is on cask beer and generally session strength at that.  If there is any keg dispense it is usually a lager because the founder understood who his core clientèle would want to drink.  There will also be a red wine, a white wine, a Prosecco and some spirits (usually gin or whatever is on trend) all in order to increase footfall over the weekends.  Cider may also exist in known bottled varieties or boxed “real” ones.  Soft drinks will be dispensed from 2 litre plastic bottles blatantly purchased from the closest supermarket.

The Drinkers

What you’d find in most macro pubs, with slight variation depending on how close the nearest bookies is.

They are the kind of people who’ll walk into a micro bar and complain about the prices.

The Décor

All wood but that is because it was the cheapest material, a lick of paint here and there but pretty much like a macro pub, only it looks like your 50 year old twice-divorced uncle has simply converted his spare room.  Has one toilet.

The Landlord

Your 50 year old twice-divorced uncle who wanted to do something different.

The Wildlife

No cats. Cats are not found in micro pubs.  Dogs are allowed; they will be hulking beasts curled at the owners feet and fed occasional crisps or hog lumps.  Drool will be present.

 

Micro Bar

The Drinks

The emphasis is on keg beer and generally bastard strength at that.  If there is any cask dispense it is usually one pale and one bitter because the founder understood what his day trip visitors would want to drink.  There will also be a plethora of red wine, white wine, Prosecco and a massive choice of spirits, at least 25 gins. Soft drinks will be dispensed from 100mL glass bottles.  Lager may also exist but in bottle form, from some obscure German brewery, this is in order to increase footfall over the weekend and then hope they never return.  Probably also doubles as a bottle shop for retail purposes.

The Drinkers

Beer bloggers, overly-agitated graphic designers and those who’ve wandered in on the recommendation of some lifestyle journalist who wrote that piece by plagiarising what the aforementioned beer bloggers wrote about the place.

They are the kind of people who’ll walk into a micro pub and complain about the lack of choice.

The Décor

All wood but is was massively over priced because of the patina effect, a lick of paint here and there but pretty much like the railway arch the beer was brewed in.  Has one toilet.

The Landlord

Your 50 year old uncle who has always had that funky beard.

The Wildlife

No cats. Cats are not found in micro bars.  Dogs are allowed; they will be small, fluffy, lap-based things brought along by the owner in order to kick start an interaction.

How To Have A Conversation

Close proximity and bench seating demands conversation be had however this still depends on where you are.

In a micro pub, assuming most of the people aren’t doing all they can to avoid eye contact, let alone conversation because they most likely lie on the autism scale somewhere, you are in for a simple and quiet drink.  Talking may occur over the clarity of the pint in front of you.  You will only drink a pint (568mL), a half is acceptable if you’ve kept your coat on because you’re going to be racing to catch a bus/train/you are driving.

In a micro bar, you will get talked at, those doing the talking even know the brewer, they are on first name terms, or at least have over heard them talking to someone else, once.  You will drink a pint as your first session ale and loosener but then progress on to halves and then thirds inversely proportional to the ABV of the drink.

Talking in the micro pub may stray on to politics, you might get offended with the frankness of the views expressed and the terms used.

Talking in the micro bar may stray on to politics, the overly-agitated graphic designers will sulk off in tears or demand you leave their safe space.

Talking in micro pubs is a rare thing, generally kept between those who recognise each other.

Talking in micro bars because massive ABV’s plus immense egos results in verbal diarrhoea.

 

Use these pointers wisely; know your surroundings, know your adversaries and your conversations, or lack thereof, in micros up and down the UK will be blissfully symphonic or wonderfully, silently golden.

 

Thanks for reading.