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.

Manchester Beer Festival – Velodrome 2014 – Part 1 – The Punter’s Tale

Bit of a eyeful that title.

I volunteered at this festival and my thoughts on that will be in Part 2, which may also include more rants about people ranting about the festival.

So, as people have recounted, this would appear to be the replacement for the Winter Ales Festival which moved to Derby. Previous years had seen that event in the Co-Op Building (when they were putting their money into worthwhile things and not being completely foolish trying to be a bank that they never were going to be and thereby losing the ‘moral banking’ selling point in one fell swoop) and in the Sheridan Suite in The Venue on Oldham Road.

Reading the twitter feed (by person or persons clearly getting more narked and sadly less professional with each non-constructive criticism the festival received) this was 4 years in the planning and it was a huge and impressive undertaking.

So lets us get what would seem the well documented negatives our of the way first.

Steps.

64 Steps.

25 more than Richard Hannay had to deal with.

That was the distance down and then up from top-tier (near the food and importantly the toilets) to beers. That doesn’t include the walk round the place from the Metrolink (if that is how you arrived) and the distance from getting your glass to the top of the stairs.

I walk everywhere (when I’m not wasting my time waiting for delayed trains and trams) so this was never a problem for me, but I can see how the infirm and disabled would see this as a massive hurdle to overcome. I offer no solutions other than a temporary bridge – good luck getting that one passed by Team GB Cycling.

The temperature – this was apparently a problem for some, I’d raised it on twitter (science nerd alert), but I went on the Thursday and it seemed no warmed than how hot the Sheridan Suite used to get at its busiest. The beer was unaffected as far as I was concerned.

The running out of beer – I’ll talk about this in Part 2 – but sarcastic “some of us work” comments are no excuse for only getting there on a Saturday afternoon. Plan ahead you self-indulgent arses.

The lack of seating on the beer floor – this was resolved as best as could possibly be done after the first session on Wednesday. Though I think some would happily see a lot more seating by removing the shops (or placing them round the sides), but standing seldom bothers me either.

The amount of people – well, that is the price of success. 10,000+ people went to this thing over the 4 days.

10,000+ people.

Oddly, in spite of my misanthropic nature I was surprisingly relaxed about all this, once I had a beer in my hand

Writing of which…to the beer…300+ beers (and ciders), in a 52-page guide.

2014 Velodrome Itinerary
2014 Velodrome Itinerary

Entry prices varied throughout the festival depending on the session (£1-£3 roughly), discounts available and how late you could turn up thinking there would be a full selection of beer on a Saturday afternoon while Citeh were playing at home after a previous 3 full days.

Glasses were £2.50 (returnable deposit) dropped to £2 on the Saturday for ease of change more than anything.

The programme was £1, which appeared to go to Henshaws – a charity for the blind.

The beers were available in 1/2s and pints (and also 1/3s which I entirely forgot about until my 4th half, I blame stress) and were priced, depending on volume ordered of course, anything up to £3 a pint for super strong beers – I didn’t make it over to the foreign beers or the bottles sections.

In alphabetical order…

Allgates Brewery was actually my first start drink too as it was the Sloe Stout at 7.1%. Now I’ve said that there other strong stout (Mad Monk, 7.2%) made me fall asleep and when you drink it you know you’re tasting something that is stronger than a regular drink, so you are warned. Sloe stout on the other hand is a more subtle affair. More soft and smooth than its bastard sibling, which it probably due to the Sloe berries themselves.

Bradfied Brewery had got a 4.9% Farmers Belgian Blue which was indeed bluey-purple in colour which came through in the head of the pint. Very fruity and with a lasting sweetness.

Brentwood Brewing provided a Chocwork Orange (6.5%) which tasted of neither orange nor chocolate, but this wasn’t a bad thing, you knew you were drinking an Old Ale and I like the taste of those, just I’d like to see how they would offset the other alleged flavours.

Green Jack Brewery
was next with an Orange Wheat Beer (4.2%), which was orangey, but not in the least bit like I’d expect a wheat beer to taste like. Fine for me, but another one that doesn’t do what it says on the pump clip.

Hopback Brewery had a 4.2% golden ale called Taiphoon in which you could really get the lemongrass flavourings – a nice session ale.

At about ten minutes to 1800 hours it was announced over a very poor PA system that there was going to be a Meet the Brewer session with the head of Hawkshead Brewery so ambling over to the brewery bar, I was stopped on numerous occasions by a lot of worried looking grey-haired men enquiring if “I want to meet a brewer?”, “did I have an interest in beer?” and “was I hear to meet the brewer?”

A small crowd of about 20 then watched as Alex Brodie took us through the finer points of hops (and a not so subtle dig at big brewing behemoths not realising the ground swell of young brewers and new micro breweries). Now I’ve sniffed many a bag of pungent smelling dried plant products in my time, but never surround by 1000 people. And so it came to pass that I ended up with very yellow hands as I crushed Goldings, Bramling Cross, Fuggles, Amarillo and Citra hops between my palms, dropping the husks in a bucket and inhaling the aromas.

I would post a picture of my yellow, 20-cigs-a-day-look-a-like hands but I don’t wish for the NSA and GCHQ to get my fingerprints. Suffice to say it was good fun and there were lots of these other sessions on around the festival, which was new to me at this event so this is a big positive.

Offbeat Brewery and Otherton Ales (blog page) had done a collaboration on the Zany Smoky Winter Wit (4.0%) and very nice it was too with fruity overtones and the smoke very subtle in the after taste.

Okells Ales had two beers I sampled; Jiarg (4.7%), which I’m sure I’ve had before but was a very good red ale and Aile which was an excellent smoked porter, which to me had a Stilton like taste. I love Stilton, so does one of my cats. I’m leaning to this being my favourite of the festival.

Red Willow Brewery had provided the Faithless XXX. A 5.0% stout with beetroot. Now sometime last March or so I tried the Faithless 26 or 27 (I can’t remember) which I think may have been the first attempt with beetroot. That was purple and earthy and full and I proclaimed (and still do) that it was in my Top Stouts of all time. Faithless XXX, while being a very good stout, was neither purpley nor earthy and hence a bit of a disappointment. But that shouldn’t be a negative, just how much I loved the original (?) version – add more beets next time please.

To break up my long prose, allow me to put in this rather topical picture, which in no way reflects my feeling towards the next brewery, but apparently, as of writing this, some of their (former) employees clearly don’t agree and I suppose you can understand – I just think its funny and also my favourite swear word…

Thwaites?
Thwaites?

365 days I’d waited for the next drink. Thwaites had won awards for this beer in 2013 and I was hopeful of getting it at last years do. It had sold out. Yet my twitter feed kept cropping up full of people who’d tried it. I searched. I searched in vain. I had to wait. I then had to worry because it wasn’t in the exact place I thought it would be on Bar 3 this year, but there it was Fallen Nun all 7.4% of it and boy was it a good. Strong, full-bodied and complex drink. The guide called it a Barley Wine, and a Black IPA. Either way I enjoyed it.

Tiny Rebel Brewing Company has been tempting me with their beers for a good 8 months now and I got hold of a Dirty Stop Out (5.0%) which as another excellent porter with smoky tastes and smells, easily in my Top 3 of this year.

I’ll treat you to another photo now, and this is from the Saturday, during a small break (because it was fucking mayhem) I managed to get hold of the Gold Award Winner which was the 5.0% Cumbrian Five Hop by the aforementioned Hawkshead Brewery.

Cumbrian Five Hop
Cumbrian Five Hop

Even got it for free, what a lovely and unexpected treat. Now if you read my thoughts often enough (you’re a masochist) you may be aware that I’m not a fan of massively hoppy beers, but my fears were allayed upon my first smell and taste. A most excellent golden ale, which belies its strength in what would be a quality session ale.

Ilkley Brewery had their own bar, from which I got their Fireside Porter. A lovely, fruity and spicy 4.2% winter warmer if ever there was one.

Wilson Potter Brewery had produced Rock It Fuel (4.1%) which was a great amber ale with a very light ginger twang.

The last beer I got to consume was on the Saturday and it was the 5.0% Oat Mill Stout from Bollington Brewing and it was a stout that went straight into my Top 3 for the festival. Rich and full, sweet and bitter. Wonderful.

Oh, I forgot about the food. It filled a hole – there were pies (big canteen ones, not individual) and burgers, a Mexican Buffet and a Cheese bar oddly. Nothing ground breaking or homely but filled a hole, but my one gripe is that the layout of the food area was confusing, and too close to the stairs where the major foot fall was.

So that is my review of the beers at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2014.

Part 2 to follow shortly.

In the meantime, I’m off to sniff some more plastic bags full of dried plant products.

Think Bike?
Drink Bike.

Beer Festivals 2013 – A Debrief

I started this blog at the back end of May this year (2013) and consequently I missed out on reviewing quite a few beer festivals.

I’m not going to do that now, I’m just going to look back fondly on them.

Beer Festivals 2013

The joys of attending beer festivals is you are never going to be short of etched glasses, or for that matter beer programmes (or t-shirts if you are that way inclined).

A quick roll call for the above photo, much like a sports team’s yearly squad photo is:

Front Row (l-r): Wigan CAMRA Festival, Salford Summer Beer Festival, Manchester Winter Ales (sharp eyes may spot the glass is from 2012 but I went in 2013, no idea where the glasses went)

Back Row (l-r): IndyMan Beer Con, Bolton Beer Festival, Marble 125th Birthday Festival, Boothstown British Legion Festival, Love Beer in Chorlton, MOSI Beer Festival, Bolton CAMRA Festival, Bent & Bongs and the Leeds Beer Festival.

This doesn’t include the ones that either didn’t do their own glasses or had run out, such as Allgates Festival/Pub crawl and the Scrumdown Festival.

The Wigan CAMRA was new to me but has been going years, Salford Summer was an inaugural event and the Winter Ales festival I’ve been to a few times, but I believe the ‘winter ales’ side has located to Derby for a while and so the new incarnation for the upcoming Manchester festival will be the one at the velodrome.

I don’t suppose the Marble Arch will have another one for at least another 25 years.

IndyMany is in its 2nd year (as is the Leeds one, though it was my first time attending that), Bolton CAMRA has been going a while as has the other Bolton one and they are nicely spaced at different times of the year and different ends of the town.

MOSI is in its third year, with a maybe permanent change of late summer from its original early summer dates.

Allgates did its first two Festivals/Pub Crawls this year (as far as I’m aware) and I can see that being quite the regular event, for which I will get their provided transport for.

Love Beer was also an inaugural event (I always seem to miss the other Chorlton Beer Festival), Boothstown is in its 2nd year, Scrumdown is in its 6th and Bent and Bongs will celebrate its 25th birthday in 2014.

These all take place in a myriad of different locations, some very (too?) well attended some not so much, some easy to get too, some worthy of a trek.

But there are now quite a few new ones popping up everywhere and this blog will endeavour to travel even further afield to sample beers and the atmospheres.

This kind of begins with my trip to Sydney (Australia) in February, so if anyone reading this can recommend so good brew pubs or beers to try when I’m over there please comment.

Here is to 2014, long may we be kept in beer.

Love Beer Festival 2013 (Chorlton, Manchester)

A review for the Love Beer Festival in Chorlton which is still on as I type.

Event takes place between 29 November – 1st December 2013.

Its clearly sign-posted from the Metrolink tram stop and should take you 5 minutes of your walking time, if you can resist going into Oddest before hand.

Love Beer Festival Itinerary
Love Beer Festival Itinerary

So you’ve got your glass, booklet and entry for £5, seems the glass was for a beer festival the Cricket Club held but I don’t know, nor do I really care.

Tokens are £5 a sheet, crossed off by the lovely people serving you; measure are pints and halves and also bottles (which I never got to).

This is Chorlton:

Chorlton
Chorlton

Chorlton is a happiness Dragon, he brought happiness to Wheelie World.

This is a review for the Love Beer Festival, which brought happiness to my cold, dead heart and freezing cold hands.

There was entertainment in the form of a male singing artist whose name I didn’t get and Adorah Johnson, both in fine voice with a good selection of own and cover material.

Food was provided by Streatza Pizza (wood baked pizza), VW Lullabelles (cakes by the camper van full) and Fire and Salt BBQ, who I procured a Pulled Pork sandwich with some BBQ beans. I was warned that on top of the chipolte they had added some Scotch Bonnets to the beans. I have Naga chillies in my house (and toilet paper in the freezer) so was not phased by any heat, but it was all very good for £7.

Upon entry I was told I was due a free (being an early attendee) half pint of Shindigger Pacific Pale Ale (4.5%) brewed by two fresh faced chaps who told me this was only the second batch they’d produced and a jolly good ale it was too, so ones to look out for.

Also new on the scene to me is Geipel Brewing. The beers are brewed in Gellioedd, North Wales care of mountain water direct from a bore-hole, head office is in Didsbury and the bloke behind it is from Ohio. I tried both the Zoigl (5.4%) a strong, malty amber ale and the Hefeweizen (5.6%) which was a damn fine wheat beer.

Before all this and while getting my first drink I was reliably informed by the staff that there were a couple of drinks not available, due to explosions, but there were still a vast array of beers to choose from, laid out in alphabetical order, showing the price per 1/2 and pint.  The staff had wrapped up warm in the main tent – a gazebo with the casks/kegs in a plethora of straw on the floor and hay bales to sit on (with the performers on one side).  Roomy it was, and quite cold, there was a bottle bars (Belgian and American brews) and and little bar selling First Chop Brewing Arm on keg that were inside and naturally these were fuller.

I had tweeted that this event had put the festival in beer festival; with its multiple tents and straw and wellie-wearing, triple layered, hoodie-adorned staff and punters, that was just my first impression.  A feeling of love and warmth (not from the weather) that you get when everyone is there all for the same thing (only with decent toilet facilities).  Sometimes you just can’t bank on the weather.  Right festival, wrong time of year?  That isn’t a negative, this was a very well organised festival and a glorious way to while away a few hours on a wet, dank and dark November evening.

The beers, in no order:

Black Jack Brewery have been a constant presence in my pub/festival life this year and Love Beer was no exception, there were two in the booklet of theirs that I had not tried.  Sadly the Pumpkin Saison was not there (this might have been one of the exploded ones).  But there was the Cluster (5.2%) – a good, robust IPA.

I tried the Engine Vein (4.2%) from the Cheshire Brew House and it was a satisfying best bitter.

I’ll now admit that every beer I’ve had from First Chop Brewing Arm (granted, yes, all in bottles; AVA, DOC, TEA) have never been to my tastes, too much hop for me, but I’m not one to write-off brewers based on bottled beers as there was a chance to try them from the barrel and there was a Black IPA in the form of SYL (6.2%) I jumped at the chance to try some.  It appears First Chop beers have a signature hoppiness to them, but I very much enjoyed this, and as there is the DUB and the JAC doing the rounds locally in Chorlton at the moment I figure if I get chance I’ll give them a go to.

Hornbeam had brought along the White Swan (4.6%) a lavender white beer which was excellent and I’d had previously before, somewhat ironically in Oddest, so I went for their Ginger Domination (5.5%) which was darker in coloured than I expected and I for one couldn’t taste the ginger (but this was after the chilli beans), but I’m not going to split hairs over what subtle tastes I can and can’t perceive, my palate isn’t that sensitive, but this was a good, dark ale either way.

Rapture (4.6%) by Magic Rock was very good.  A red beer that was very much in agreement with me.

All (most) of the Privateer beers were there as they were one of the official partners.  I’ve had them all and I’ve enjoyed them all, so I just thought I’d mentioned them in passing.

From Quantum Brewery I had the Elephant Hawk (6.2%) IPA, which certainly was a beast when it came to the hops (triple hopped) and it tasted somewhat thick, make of that what you will, not for me, but more to my tastes was the Lapsang Souchong Saison (6.4%) which was a beautifully crafted drink with the hint of the added tea. Great stuff.

Tatton Brewery had provided the Tatton Yeti (4.5%) a lovely winter ale, reminding me that as much as I dislike Xmas, tis the season for great beers, of which this was one.

Red Willow and BrewFirst (the Italians) had a collaboration on, no name, despite me pestering Red Willow’s Toby McKenzine on twitter about it (apologises for that) I think it was in the ball park of 6% and it was a very good lager-esque brew that I felt quite privileged to be drinking considering it wasn’t released yet.  Jump on it if you go.

Allgates, ah Allgates and their Mad Monk (7.1%) – I’ve actually had this in fudge form too which I got from the White Lion in Leigh sometime at the start of 2013.  This is a beast of an imperial stout, against my better judgement when I first had it, I got a pint and consequently fell asleep in the pub.  You know the kind of drunken snoozes where pub life continues to happen all around you and you realise you were asleep so try and listen in to a nearby conversation and chip in to make it seem like you were just ‘resting your eyes’.  Apparently chipping in with, or rather shouting “Dimitar Berbatov” only confirms everyone’s suspicions that you were asleep.  Find this and drink wisely.

Finally there were two beers from Brightside Brewing Co in the form of Spice (5.2%), a proper winter ale that warms the cockles and if I may be so crude, colours the burps so you can enjoy the many flavours a second time.  The Inn Crowd (3.8%) an excellent mild and possibly my favourite of the Love Beer Festival.

The festival is still on, so get down and pack the place out as the people involved in it are clearly in love with what they are trying to do.

Thanks to all the staff, food suppliers, venue people, artists and organisers.  Hopefully this can be a regular occurrence.

Peace and Love.

Boothstown Beer Festival (2nd)

This is a review for the 2nd, my 1st and hopefully annual, Boothstown Beer Festival.

As of writing this the event is still open, running from the 15th-16th November 2013.

Boothstown Itinerary
Boothstown Itinerary

Boothstown is a place that if you don’t live there then it is merely a place people drive through to get from the East Lancs. (A580) to the motorways (M60, M62, M602). Or when you’re a kid, its that place with all them big houses on ‘Millionaire’s Row’.

For me its a place where I had a rather dodgy curry experience and a rather hair raising driving experience when I was allowed out driving for the first time after passing my test.

It is now also the home of the personification of the simple, easy to use and even easier to have fun beer festival.

£5 entry gets you a lovely, simply pint glass.  Marked with full and half pint measures, a lovely poppy logo and a taxi rank number.

Beer tokens come in £5 sheets and are crossed off at the bar with marker pens, £3.20 is the most expensive pint.

The guide is simply laid out with an introduction and then split into ‘Amber’, ‘Golden’ and ‘Dark’ Ales with a separate Perry/Cider section.

With no tasting notes (which is a subject I’ve been meaning to cover for a while), just brew name, brewer name,  price (per pint), %ABV and the barrel sponsor.  The barrel flashes feature the exact same info should you forget your guide and I think the beer is arrange in alphabetical order (ish).

The food was a cheese and onion barm or sausage and onion roll (we are talking proper sausage here too) or a pork pie from a local butchers, glistening in jelly as proper pork pies should.  Hopefully there might be a bit more of a range next year, a good lobby perhaps?

In no particular order here are the beers I tried:

Allgates had brought along 3 beers, one of which was their Poppy (4.5%, 10p donation to Poppy appeal with each pint sold) was a very dark amber beer.  Indian pale in taste, with big hoppy flavours offset with a malty sweetness.

Thwaites Crafty Devil (4.3%) was another tasty, malty hoppy amber ale with a certain sweetness to it.

Liverpool Brewery had provided a 4.0% Pale which was just the right side of a hoppy golden ale for me to enjoy.  The kind of golden ale you drink it winter than makes you yearn for the summer.

4Ts Brewery also had a few brews and I tried their Red & Hoppy (4.9%) which you can just about see in the above picture.  Its redness is something to be hold as is its hoppiness, yes the clue was in the name.  The colour mixed with the flavour really did mess with my head, but in a good way and could be quite a dangerously drinkable beer.

Another Allgates beer to try was their Hung, Drawn & Portered (5.2%) it a fine dark Porter, smooth and rich and malty; what I want from a Porter with a distinct sweetness too.

Blackmere Brewery (Northern Brewing) next with a 5.0% Deep Dark Secret another smooth, dark ale with big coffee flavours and a hint of liquorice.

Greene King, them of the ever present Greene King IPA, or if you’re in Scotland Belhaven Best had brought along their 4.5% Porter called 1799 after their year of foundation and when it came out of the barrel in its dark and frothy ways I thought and was actually proved correct that it had an over-riding taste of an old fashioned Dandelion and Burdock, in a good way.

The Leyther (that’s Leigh for the uninitiated) brewery that is Urban Hop had brought along their Golden Jack (3.8%) which I had previously enjoyed in Manchester and this time I finally got to try their Black Jack (4.0%).  Finding this beer had been teasing my for a while, walking into pubs which had the pump clip on the wall, or even had their branded pint glasses or beer mats to drink and rest someone else brew from.  This was a smooth and if I’m honest too quickly neckable drink.  A session ale in dark form.

Finally we get to the Cheshire Brew House offering of Stormy Point, the reassuringly most expensive beer in the guide, by a whole 20p, because this beast was 6.7%.  The taste belies its strength, so this is another dangerously drinkable dark brew that should come with a disclaimer.  To me it also had a fruitiness to it too, kind of like the cherry (or strawberry) on top.

A small and perfectly formed beer festival, a live blues band provided the music too, which was far more entertaining that England’s performance against Chile that only a handful of people were watching.

Thanks to all the volunteers and the everybody else who put this all together.

It is all for a good cause too, so always remember them.

Lest We Forget.

The Road to Wigan Beer – The Allgates Brewery Beer Festival/Pub Crawl 2013

This event took place between the 3rd – 13th October, over 7 pubs.

If memory serves, this event took place earlier in about March of 2013, but as it stands I went to all 7 magnificent pubs over a very drawn out 12-hour period of drinking and commuting on Saturday 12 October 2013, this was the 3rd and final of my ‘3 different beer festivals over 3 days’ extravaganza.

Take ‘took place’ with a pinch of salt because Allgates pubs regularly rotate guest ales – from a drinkers perspective (especially cask) they are a dream, while the ‘Road to Wigan Beer’ might not be officially ‘on’ any more, the chance of doing your own pub crawl to all 7 is a yearly event of your own making – just plan ahead – and don’t try and walk it or rely on First Bus if you wish to keep relatively sane.

This review will be as much about the pubs as the beers, which I suppose is the crux of the actual festival.

Now if you follow my Twitter feed, you may be aware I spend a good portion of my rants going off on Northern Rail.  This Saturday though (and if I’m being honest most weekends, shame they have to mess my working week about so much) they were faultless.  Which leaves me sad it can never run this smoothly for at least one week, five continuous days of return journeys. There, the most backhanded, caveat laced compliment I can give to them.

Getting in to Gathurst station sometime around 12.30pm, it was a mere stroll down to the canal, passing a man with a hawk – I shit you not, I wish I’d got a picture, but if ever you’ve seen a better omen to the start of a long day I welcome you up the ante.

The Way to Crooke Hall Inn
The Way to Crooke Hall Inn

6 minutes by bike to the 1st pub The Crooke Hall Inn which means for my pace a leisurely 15 minutes on foot. Oddly the sign pointing the way back to Gathurst suggests its 10 minutes by bike.

I can only assume the sign makers added 4 minutes on for the alcohol induced staggering that may be one consequence of visiting Crooke.

Crooke Hall Inn
Crooke Hall Inn

What a glorious site. It screams England in every utopian sense of nationalistic pride even I get once in a while. Even the weather held all day.

I started off the day with Bexar Brewery and their Texan Pecan Coffee Mild (3.9%) and this probably was tied top drink of the whole trek; dark, smooth and with a good clean flavours of, well, work it out from its name.

Late Knights Brewery also tripped my taste buds with their 3.9% Crack of Dawn  – a pale ale of very good quality.

Crooke Hall Inn is quite lovely, inside and out – and check out this Should of Lamb

Lamb Shoulder
Lamb Shoulder

To all intents and purposes this was actually the worst pub to start the crawl on – I mean, there were about another 4-6 ales on the bar, the food, the location – who’d want to move?

(Distance walked: ~ 2 miles)

Well the bar man did look a bit like Sam Tomkins and being as I’m a Centurions supporter and was a man on a mission I needed to get a-walking, so it was back to the train station (via the pub on the platform for a shandy) and a quick 5mins back to Wigan and to visit The Anvil.

The Anvil, Wigan
The Anvil, Wigan

It was about 2pm and this place was fairly heaving, a proper town centre pub that I’d been in a couple of times before, but some time prior.  As my years have rolled on, this is more the type of pub I like – its very local, but not intimidating – if you’d never been in before, you’d be surprised at what is on offer at the bar.  If you get the train you also walk passed the Allgates Brewery too, which I went up to and pushed my nose against the windows like some kid out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In The Anvil I was served, by a rather pretty bar maid, the Bosuns Whistle (4.3%) from Bosuns Brewing Co. and the Insomniac Stout (4.0%) by The Malthouse Brewery.  The latter was a smooth coffee stout, very nice; the former was a nice hoppy, summery and good representation of a golden ale.

Back on the train for another 3 minute ride and 2 minute walk to The Hare and Hounds in Hindley.

Hare & Hounds, Hindley
Hare & Hounds, Hindley

Another new pub for me and a jolly nice, fairly small boozer.

The small bar surrounded by the locals.

A sign cheerfully telling me to “not be offended if we ask you if you are over 25” is immediately rendered ironic as I’m served by a very pretty girl who looks to be barely in her 20’s.

Here I had the ever excellent Boggart Hole Clough Brewery presenting me with a to be expect excellent Mud Brawler Vanilla (4.4%). A rich, lightly vanillary porter and my joint No.1 of the day.

I was bowled over by the Fubar (4.4%) from Tiny Rebel Brewing Co., (1) because I’d heard a lot about them and (2) because according to the booklet it wasn’t supposed to be in this pub, but I’m not about to get worked up about this welcome surprise which as the notes said, was all over the place with regards taste, but in a good way.

It was then time to leave this lovely little boozer and do THE trek. Disheartened that no buses operated along the route I set out like Captain Oates.

It turned out to be a near 6 mile round trip to The Victoria

The Victoria, Aspull (Haigh Village)
The Victoria, Aspull (Haigh Village)

I got there only to hear them talking about how busy they were last week when Allgates had organised a bus around the 7 pubs and that how all the beer they had got in for the festival had all ready been emptied.

I settled for one of Allgates own Napoleon‘s Retreat (3.9%) which I’ve had and enjoyed before and sat down in the rather large and luxurious village pub contemplating just what I had done and what I was still about to do.

Back on the train to disembark at Atherton (Bent) and walking (1.3 miles) into Tyldesley (Bongs) to visit a pub I’ve been a fair few times called The Union Arms.

Union Arms, Tyldesley (Bongs)
Union Arms, Tyldesley (Bongs)

Full Nelson (3.8%) by Two Roses Brewery was finished off by a man who was in massive need of a light ale and got just that.  A Swift (3.9%) by Trumans Beer was another good stab at a golden ale, as was the Golden Rivet (3.7%) from Bosuns Brewing Co..

Sadly I’d got to The Union just after they’d stopped serving food, but I can tell you then do some great stodge, which has saved my beer days/afternoons/nights out a few times. The pub itself is set on many levels with the bar in the middle and a very good jukebox. Its another welcoming ‘locals’ pub (a theme it would seem).

Now here is were First Bus decide to mess me about. A number 12 service that would have taken me to Atherton and then on to Leigh would make good value even after 8pm for a day saver given the length of bus rides I still had to do, but it merely chose not to turn up.  So walking (1 mile) it was into Atherton to visit another familiar place to me in The Jolly Nailor.

Jolly Nailor, Atherton (Bent)
Jolly Nailor, Atherton (Bent)

The Nailor is a rock pub in the best sense.  A rock pub that is actually clean, late closing, usually with very loud, live music and of course a large range of ales.

By the time I reached here I was flagging, not solely through physical exertion but also the need for another dark ale before I succumbed to a golden ale coma.

Nothing doing with regards dark stuff; a Citrus Burst (5.3%) from Alchemy Brewing Limited certainly perked up the taste buds with a fruity IPA hit, but the real find was again from Bexar Brewery and their Rye (4.0%). An IPA of sorts, but bitter and sweet and red in colour and very, very different.  These people seem like one to hunt out more from.

Another walk to a bus stop and up roles a belated 12 service, but its not going to Leigh, its going back to Manchester.  I’m not walking another step, I can’t, but here comes the 582 which will get me to The White Lion and eventually back home again.

White Lion, Leigh
White Lion, Leigh

As I write this the White Lion is slated to do food on Fridays & Saturdays, but I settled for a few packs of Seabrooks (the best crisps, just) and a fair few beers to celebrated doing all 7 pubs.

The White Lion is another pub I’m familiar with, a middlish-sized pubs full of welcoming locals of every strata, well whatever possible different strata inhabit Leigh.  Here I had a Cockleroy Black IPA (4.8%) from Alchemy Brewing Limited, black IPA’s always flip my head and this was no exception. More stout like (malty) than any other other black IPA I’ve had, so by default its the best I’ve had so far.  The London Particular (4.0%) by Ha’penny Brewing Co. was a red brew full of sweet and malty flavours, and the Star (4.3%) by Portobello Brewing Co. was a good fruity bitter to end the night on.

So there you have it:

15 beers.

7 great pubs.

10 miles walked (give or take)

That’s a walking distance of 5.29e-13 parsecs Star Wars fans.

I was left to finish off the 3 final drinks and read about all the beers I hadn’t had chance to try.

I also resolved to get the sodding Allgates arranged bus next time.

That or hire a chauffeur for the day.

Thanks to all the brewers I got to sample, to all those I sadly didn’t and especially to all at Allgates and all the staff at every pub.

Same time.  Whenever.  Forever.  Our pubs are always there, we just have to use them.

Indy Man Beer Con IMBC 2013

This event took place over the 10th – 13th October 2013.

I attended the ‘late’ session on the Friday.

Entry was £11 – bought some 7 months in advance.

The Indy Man Beer Con or IMBC or Independent Manchester Beer Convention (beer the only word not abbreviated) is now 2 years old. Held at Victoria Baths, this was my second time attending – only do one session per year, cost being most prevailing.

This is from last year, this became Room 1 in 2013 as I’m pretty sure their were only the 3 rooms last year, as I don’t recall a ‘Room 3’ (room with live music) being there last year.

IMCB 2012
IMCB 2012

Maybe it was – but the fact is when you get to Victoria Baths you can’t help but walk around and then sit down and admire the place.

Not just the building and the renovation, but the actual effort gone into hosting the event itself.

IMBC 2012 Later On
IMBC 2012 Later On

Why am I posting 2012 pictures with no comparison to this years event?

Because my pictures are crap and can not do this place justice.

To be honest, the place seemed quieter this year – I base this on two rather big things :

1) Very little waiting time to use the loo.

2) Very little waiting time to get some food.

Whether this was a facet of more rooms or more days, or less people per session I don’t know. It isn’t really important.

Ah yes, the food – as much a part of IMBC as the alcohol itself.  Street food if wish to call it by its current trendy incarnation, overly expensive certainly, but nothing can be faulted in this place as regards being a most welcome change to burgers and chips.

Even if the pretentiousness of the occasion is always in your face, I suppose it is trying to find a niche in amongst a plethora of self-conscious, self-regarding dandies that currently pass for youth these days. But the clientele that make up the current ‘craft’ beer ‘revolution’ is a massive subject I’m currently lazing over.

This review is about the food, the beer, the event.

I had the Great Northern Pie Co. Ox cheek pie (with a lot more ingredients inside) with potato gravy (blitzed mash) and pea vinegar.  You have to taste it because I can’t explain it, it just worked.

The Moocher also busted out some kind of chilli rabbit wrap. The cold salad off setting the wonderful and nicely spiced meat.

So much on offer, so little time, so little room in the digestive tract – this counts double for the beer.

To digress a while more – what really does set the festival apart from the rest is the chance to go to one of the events, tasting with brewers themselves, meeting them, debating with others. I went to the Sour Seminar hosted by the Lovibonds one man army that is Jeff Rosenmeier.

My review of that event and Sour Beers (Henley Gold (not sour), Sour Grapes, Magic Rock Dark Arts) in general can be found here

IMBC 2013 - The Pencil
IMBC 2013 – The Pencil

Look, you get a pencil on entry – a writing implement is always very important.

The glass is for 1/3 only – the beer to be honest is expensive for some on the things considering you only get 1/3, but square it with how often you are likely to get to drink it anywhere else.

Thornbridge Brewery had brought along a very, very good Barrel Aged Beadeca’s Well (5.3%). Rich and smoky.

I too also fell foul of the Quantum Brewery Imperial Treacle Stout (8.6%). There appears to be a lot of treacle stout around at the moment. Its a flavour that works well any dark brew and this was no exception. The taste and feel belies the strength of the drink.

Marble Brewery had brought along their 125 Barley Wine (10.7%). Sweet and delicious, this was a nice birthday treat for the Marble Arch’s 125th birthday this year.

Northern Monk Brewery Co. had collaborated with Allgates to produce the 8.2% (though curiously advertised as 9.7%) Northern Gates.  This tasted every bit as strong as it was, but in that good way that makes you drink it slower and appreciate the depths of its flavours more.

Italian beers were represented in my tasting by Birra Del Borgo and their Genziana (6.2%) and ReAle (6.4%) – both were sweet, with the former tasting of apples but the later had the more rounded flavours for my palate.

Also from Italy was Ambrosia (4.5%) by Toccalmatto – Italians must like their beers sweet, this was very nice, very similar to a white beer.

Arbour Ales seemed to have created a bit of a fuss with their Breakfast Stout (7.4%), even the bar staff kept raving on about it.  Oats, coffee, full and wholesome.  Someone remarked it was a meal in a glass, and even at a 1/3 it was most filling and satisfying.

Liverpool Craft Beer Co. treated my to a taste of their Black Fox (6.5%). This was a very good beer, but sadly this feel foul of the keg cold syndrome that I feel can negate a dark beer’s characteristics more than it does for the lighter ones. Something to find on cask to enjoy fully I feel.

This brings me to my two favourite beers of the night.

Black Jack Brewery and their Blackberry King of Clubs (7.2%) – and if ever I could lovingly punch someone for making such a nice beer so strong it would be this one. Indeed a King of brews.

Wild Beer Co. and their offering of Ninkasi (9%) my also await the same fate as the brewers of Black Jack. This was too smooth, too drinkable, too fucking dangerous.

I leave IMBC always with a sense of never having tried enough.  Not enough food, not enough beer, not enough of the venue, not enough of the chatter.

This place really does beg you to go for more than one session.

And that was IMBC – a place that is trying to be a different beer festival, and in many, many obvious ways it is.  But in many, many ways it is also the same and this is to do with how people are when they get together with like-minded people and share a massive common bond. Generations may separate the drinking cultures of Britain, but the goal is roughly the same.

Like Kirk and Picard.

Thanks to all involve in the set-up, bar service, food service, talks, etc.

Same time next year, for more than one session.