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.

Bent & Bongs Beer Bash 2014

This event, the 25th hosting of it took place between January 30th and February 1st 2014.

Bent – short for Chowbent is the nickname of Atherton.

Bongs – is the nickname of Tyldesley, no I don’t know the etymology of it either – anyone?

Entry is £5-£7 depending on the day (discount for CAMRA members and if you arrive after a certain time).

You get your glass and programme as part of the entry fee, so no glass refunds for those that are used to them.

Tokens are in papers booklets of £10 and the major quirk of this festival is having to rip off the amount you need, yep no help with marker pens here.  So what you end you with is second guessing yourself doing that self-deluding drunken maths where you think “if I take £1 and the 10p of this sheet I can take to 10p tokens off another and then I’ll have £X and X pennies left for the next drink.”

What you end up doing is dropping loads of paper ‘cash’ on the floor like confetti and generally not realising as you stagger away from the bar.

The men’s toilets also queue, but it goes down quick and you get some of the best banter in there because of it.

The coat room is through into the lady’s toilet area – yes, this was the first year I put my coat in (and umbrella) and I was taken aback – its run by St. John’s Ambulance who merely ask for a donation.

The festival raises money for local charities and has raised somewhere in the region of £400,000 in the 25 years its been going.

I’ve been going to this festival a fair few years now.  Usually on the Friday, with opening times of 5-11pm and you’d think it was 9.30pm when really it was 6.30pm and you realised just how hammered you were.

It now opens at 4pm, I think mainly because Fridays prior to this (this only being the 2nd year of 4pm opening) were rammed – one in, one out, if you weren’t in the queue by 5pm you probably wouldn’t get in till everyone else was hammered at 6.30pm, so popular was it.

Now, whereas I will queue with about 45 minutes till opening, all my cohorts can turn up at 4pm on the dot and be in within 10 minutes and the hall remains a breathable and fairly fresh place – because sometimes it was almost a heaving primordial soup of drunkards – the best kind.

Drinks are served by the half or pint and the food is how I judge all other festival food.

You’ve got Bury Black Pudding, Roast Beef Barms, Cheese & Pickle Barms (for veggies apparently), a wide variety of sausages and the piece de resistance…HOT POT.

Hot pot, with peas, red cabbage and suet crust – again you could tell how busy the festival used to get when the crust used to sell out.

Great, proper stodge, home-made and nothing more than £4.50 currently.

It was this event that taught me the vital need to eat something every 4-5 drinks if I wanted to last – and I do, long enough to go on to the Pendle Witch (Moorhouse’s) or the Jolly Nailor (Allgates Brewery), which always have beer festivals running alongside (to mop up the pre/post-drinkers or the unlucky souls) and be equally busy and where I always end up, if I’m not ‘tired’.

You always get good live music on too from a variety of acts over the 3 nights (and 1 afternoon session).

On to the beer – and this year’s was an absolute stormer, especially for the dark beers, so in saying that, I can’t even pick a favourite this time. I also forgot a pen, but improvised with other stranger’s pens and some lipstick.

Sadly I didn’t get hold of anything that 4Ts Brewery had to offer, so hopefully next time.

I ended the night on a Broadoak Moonshine Cider (7.5%) – my mates swear by it, they also swear a lot more when on it. If you like rather sweet, easy drink, bastard strength cider than I can recommend this.

The festival also carries quite a large range of foreign beers (bottle and keg) from around the world, sadly I didn’t get to go for a second session otherwise I would have tried some of these – I’ve got my eye on you Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout.

Anyway, the beers. In alphabetical order we have…

The aforementioned Allgates Brewery who provided their new 3.9% Crombouke Day-Eye TnT, which was a complete bugger to order but was a great, light pale ale; which was almost as enjoyable as their 4.2% Blue Sky Tea another light pale with the aroma and subtle flavourings of tea.

Ascot Ales were one of the brewers of one of the numerous great dark ales with their 4.5% Penguin Porter. Good malty flavours with the lovely coffee taste I want to have in my dark alcoholic beverages, something I’d happily have by a fire on a cold day – or even a badly-needs-bleeding radiator on a wet Friday night.

Binghams Brewery provided the truthfully named Space Hoppy (5%), a vanilla IPA that worked with the light vanilla taste round off the hops nicely, deceptively strong.

Next were some Southerners in the form of East London Brewing, of which I sampled to of their beers; the Jamboree a lovely golden ale, something that revives the memories that summer might come soon, but not a session ale at 4.8%, but very drinkable. The other was the 5.2% East India Spice a winter ale with a wonderful aroma which if it tasted like it smelt could have gone wrong (too many spices) but happily the actual spicy taste was no overpowering at all, I liked it, though I suspect some might not.

Ludlow Brewing Company were the next to tickle my taste buds with their dark offering with a Black Knight, more coffee and roasted tastes and smells from this 4.5% stout which was that good I’m willing to forgive them using the word Artisan on their website.

Next up are Naylor’s Brewery, continuing a fine dark drinks drinking experience with their 4.1% Porticus Stout, which I insisted on calling Portcullis (a ‘later that night’ drink). A lovely, smooth and velvety stout. I think I may have got almost overcome by all this wonder dark booze.

The amusingly named The Devils Deadly Weapon at a satanic 6.66% and an even more evilly labelled bespoke beer from North Star Brewery was a bit like a red-ale/barley wine hybrid to me and again something good enough to make me forgive the use of one of the horrible marketing descriptors.

Penpont Brewery brought along their quite lovely winter dark brew that was Silent Night. You new it was strong, it was at 7.2%, but it reached the cockles with a welcome warmth and an ensuing beer flushed face will follow.

Red Willow Brewery brought along their 6.5% Soulless which is what I would expect from a brewery who have yet to make a beer I didn’t like. Black IPA with a citrus twang.

A collaboration next from Great Heck Brewery and Steel City Brewing in the form of another wintry, festive brew called Yule Twig (5.2%). Brown ale with hops and Xmas pudding – something to enjoy sat next to a blazing Sheffield steel furnace (well, not too close).

Thwaites. What the fuck is going on with Thwaites? While they decide what the fuck they are doing, so long as they keep producing great beers like the 6.5% Old Dan (a good fruity old-ale like brew) and Smoke Stack a very smoky 5.8% dark beer that had good body a flavour even if the smoke was a bit too much like bacon they should at least maintain some sort of drinking base (if not a work force).

TrueFitt Brewing had brought along their Ironopolis Stout (4.7%) which all I can say was I enjoyed so much when I previously had it, about a year ago, that I went and had it again despite all the other choice.

Sarah Hughes Brewery. I will state now that the name Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild is one of my beery muses. The pinnacle of what I call ‘dangerously drinkable’ (6%). Along with queuing & eating the other ritual I have for this festival is this drink. I had never seen it anywhere else, yet it is always here. I wait 365 for this thing. I’m like an out of shape, shorter version of Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi in Point Break, but I won’t be waiting 10 years for this wonderful beer storm.

Yes I love it. But I will say that all the other drinks more than held their own against it, so I was a very happy (and massively pissed) boy.

So thanks again to all the organisers and volunteers (even if they didn’t respond to my requests to offer a hand).

Same time next year for more queues, beers and Hot Pot.