Month: May 2016

Brum Beer Profiles – The Craven Arms

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Introduction

When you think about great places to drink in Birmingham city centre then the Craven Arms has to be very close to the top of the list. It has been around for quite a while but it wasn’t until Chris and Sharon Sherratt took it over in early 2013 that it started to become the beer nirvana we all know and love now. So, with Chris being a Burtonian like fellow blogger Dave Hopkins I thought it was time for the two of us to have a chat with him for the blog to discuss his beery past, how he became a publican, and his plans for the future. It became clear to us that it was this journey, and Chris’s beery adventures that led to him and Sharon being such fantastic publicans and making The Craven Arms such a great pub.

Where it all started

We began by discussing his formative years in the old home town where his first loves were the Porter from the Burton Bridge brewery, a beer fondly remembered by Dave as well, and DBA at Ind Coopes social club.

‘I was quite a late starter really!  My Mum and Dad very rarely drank, so there was very little alcohol in the house, other than the odd can of Sainsbury’s light ale, but not really anything that was worth talking about.  I remember at around 15 or 16 going down to The Bridge in Burton and drinking porter.  We started going down there and having the porter because it was different.  In those days, Bass and Pedigree were decent beers, so we drank a lot of those.  Bass was still a separate company that was brewing beer, and it was good.  I used to drink that when I went in the Blue Post, who started introducing Guest Beers, so it was quite interesting to try beers that you’d not seen in Burton in before.  And Marston’s at the time, with Paul Bailey the head brewer were doing the Brewers Choice.  So there were two different beers each month, and they were pretty interesting.  I also used to drink DBA quite a lot.  I’ve always been quite into beer and don’t think I’ve ever really drunk lager in a pub.  I’ve always been an ale drinker. ‘

His first period in Birmingham was at University where he frequented the Unspoilt by Progress and the Flapper before going back to Burton to begin his career in teaching. By 1998 he was back in Birmingham discovering the Anchor and the Waggon and Horses in Halesowen before carrying on his beer education in Nottingham, Derby in 2001 at the Flowerpot and Brunswick, and Sheffield during which time he became a bit of a ticker.

‘I then did a PGCE where I just did a lot of normal weekend drinking.  In 1998, I then lived in Birmingham for a while and re-discovered The Anchor, where the beers were always changing and were in decent condition, so that was my first taste of Coniston and Harviestoun.’

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A Beer Epiphany

Like many of us beer geeks there is often a specific beer that hooks you in, often called an Epiphany Beer.

‘For me it was probably Roosters – either ‘Yankee’, or ‘Special’.  Basically anything by Roosters really!  And Oakham beers too.  They were the first regularly seen beers that were pale and hoppy and that was probably mid to late 90’s where there was something just a bit different.  Before that, most of the beers were brown and although weren’t necessarily rubbish beers it was just nice to see something new and different. If I compare those beers now to what I had back then, I don’t think they’re what they were.  But is that me looking back with rose coloured spectacles of the type of beer they were, or is it that they have changed the beer?  I suspect it’s a bit of both, that actually the hops they use now are different, the malt, and the yeast can have an impact, but I just don’t think they’re the beers they were.’

Variety and Exploration

It is this time in Birmingham that helped to form Chris’s interest in variety and interesting beers.

‘I then later discovered The Wagon in Halesowen where they had 16 beers, and I just enjoyed drinking different beers all the time, experiencing as many different styles as I could.    

In 1998 I also joined CAMRA and there was also the Figure of Eight on Broad Street where there were always some great guest beers on in there – it was a really good Wetherspoons at the time.  And then I moved to Nottingham where I first experienced rapidly changing beers where I was on the CAMRA committee.  It was a really good experience of being able to look into the ins and outs of ale and it was a really decent CAMRA branch.  Then, in 2001 I moved back to Derby and drank in some great pubs in Derby including the Alex Brunswick.  Derby was great, and was an education  in beer really – had great access to Oakham and Rooster beers and pale, hoppy beers.  And then we discovered Sheffield, which was a revelation – that’s where I started collecting beers.  There was one year where I made a conscious decision where on January 1st, I decided I wanted to try 1000 different beers within the year, which I’d done by the August!’

The opening of The Wellington in 2004 meant he could further his beer knowledge, but by 2007-08 he began to feel the UK beer scene was beginning to stagnate. And then came another epiphany with 2 trips to New York and their enthusiasm for beer which was all served in (whisper it) keg.  Like other drinkers who had visited the States, he realised that it was more than just Bud & Miller and wondered ‘Why not in England’? Fortunately a new breed of Breweries in the UK such as Kernel came to the rescue and kick-started the UK scene that we all know and love.

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The Pub Comes a Calling

Chris and Sharon’s journey across the Midlands exploring beers, and their passion for beer led them to the decision to make a major change in their lives and become publicans, something that Dave and I, along with fellow Birmingham drinkers, are very grateful for.

‘When did you make the jump from teaching to working in and running a pub, and why?’

‘I did a beer order for Derby Winter Ales Festival in 2011 because I was a bit bored of the beer choice at beer festivals.  It always felt pretty safe, so I did the beer order for them and got 10 Brodies Beers in, 2 Kernel Casks, which at that time was still difficult to get hold of as they were still very small, but I managed to persuade them.  I also managed to get loads of Buxton as well, as that was a similar time to when they’d just started taking off with Axe Edge and Imperial Black which were fantastic.’  

‘From there, I handed my notice in and did some training with Everards, as initially I wanted to run a pub with them.  So I did cellar and bar training with them, did some experience in pubs, and then I worked for Blue Monkey and managed the Organ Grinder in Nottingham for about four months, where I got lots of Brodies and Buxton in there for them, just to spoil Nottingham’s taste buds!!’  

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The Craven Arms

Chris and Sharon wanted to return to Birmingham and fortunately for all of us beer drinkers our very own @mediocre_dan (find his most recent blog here) tweeted about the Craven being on the market, so they asked Black Country Ales and the rest is history. The pub was closed for a short period to refurbish it and turn it into a fairly typical BCA comfy pub. Initially they had 2 free pumps to pick their own beers rather than going from the Black Country list, but after the success of the first beer festival in the summer of 2013 they were allowed to do their own thing much more, and also increase the range of keg taps.

‘By this time, I knew I’d had enough of teaching and was really keen to move careers.  Once I’d generated some experience and the training, I then approached Black Country Ales and told them I was interested in running one of their pubs, but was keen to be able to select some of my own beers.  Initially we were offered the Robin Hood at Willenhall, but on Twitter had noticed that they’d just bought the Craven, so I spoke to them about this place instead.’

‘When was it you opened the Craven Arms?’

‘It was 2012 we looked into it and it was 2013 Black Country re-opened it.  It moved quite quickly.  I think we started looking at it in around October/November time and then it was closed for around six weeks before we took over in early 2013.  As soon as Black Country Ales had stamped their style on it, it felt like it started to work.  Initially we had to choose off the Black Country Ales list, but for me it was a financially risk free strategy, because the thing with Black Country is they don’t require money upfront, so it was just a case of them employing us and we get a percentage of the takings.’

 ‘Why did you choose this site?’

‘We’d walked past it when we’d been to see gigs at the O2, so we knew that it existed, but it was the fact it was Birmingham City Centre, and the fact that Birmingham City Centre still doesn’t really have enough decent pubs that just do beer.’  

 ‘When you started here did you have a plan of what you wanted it to be like?’

‘Yeah, I wanted ,if we could, to get our own beers on, but that just happened naturally within the first six months. Initially, we were offered two free choice pumps, and then it spread over the rest.  So now we’ve got up to eight guests of my choosing, plus the keg as well and that happened quite quickly as well.  After about seven – eight months we could get most beers we wanted.’

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Dave & Debs copy of the 2013 Craven Arms Beer Festival
Becoming a Legend

In our opinion what makes The Craven Arms stand out is its keg range and the great quality of their cask beers.  It is the quality of the cask beer that has led Bob to change his mind and begin to love beer from hand-pull.

‘Do you think your background in science has enabled you to keep better beer?’

‘No, not at all!  I drink my own product, so I want it to be good.  I just enjoy it, and want to aspire to have something that’s worth drinking. It’s not rocket science, so it still puzzles me as to why places can’t get it right.  They’re not difficult to look after, it’s the basics – keep your lines clean!  I know a lot of people blame the brewers or the beer, when it so often isn’t the brewers’ fault if the beer is bad – there’s more to it than that and how it’s kept is so important.’

‘When did you add keg and what was the thinking behind that?’

‘I’d been to The Grove in Huddersfield a few times, where they have loads of keg and cask in the same place, and London pubs started to do it as well, so we wanted to try it.  We started off with two, and then we went up to four and then that slipped up to six!  I think it was 2014 we started doing keg.  I’d love to do more keg lines, but we just don’t have the space to do it here.’

Opinion on the current Birmingham Beer Scene

We started this blog because we are passionate about the Beer Scene and we are keen to see it grow, (Read Bob’s opinion blog on the scene here).  It is fantastic to hear Chris feeling the same.  We believe the more the people of the scene work together the more likely we will see the improvements we want to see.

‘How do you feel about where Birmingham is currently at with its beer scene and do you feel there is anything missing?’

‘I personally don’t think it’s very good.  It’s got some good places like Tilt, Original Patty Men, but you have to compare Birmingham with other cities, and the ones you compare it with, like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and it feels like we’re behind.  I think we need something like ‘Tapped’ or a ‘Craft Beer Company’, but they don’t seem to be opening, and when places do become available, they seem to be snapped up with the wrong types of places.  We don’t need any more cocktail bars!  I also feel there needs to be a bottle shop in the centre.  We’ve got two great bottle shops with Stirchley and Cotteridge, but we’ve not got anything in the centre.’ 

What Next?

Chris and Sharon are not standing still, they are continuing to develop the The Craven Arms and have plans to make more positive impact on the Birmingham beer scene.

‘What do you plan for the future at Craven Arms?’

‘I think we’re planning on having some more ‘Meet the Brewer’ sessions – they’ve worked really well on a Monday night.  I’d be interested in doing something with Buxton here, and I’d also be really interested in doing a Beavertown Cask versus Keg event.  We’re also looking at doing a Wild Weekend of Wild Beers at some point.  I think the main thing is looking for another place as well as this, just to help with the scene as it feels so fragmented.’

‘What do you see for your future?’

‘I’d like to open a keg micro pub.  I think Birmingham could do with another place, and I’d want somewhere that had more keg lines.’  

It was wonderful to chat to Chris and learn about his passion for beer and how this has led him to making it his career.  It was also great to hear how his beer journey and experiences have led to all the elements that make The Craven Arms such a fantastic pub.

By Dave Hopkins & Bob Maxfield – We thank Chris for giving up his time to speak with us.

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We are actually a lot more sober than we look…honest!

The Same, but Different

      One of the main reasons for our trip to Huddersfield (read about the rest of our visit here – Four Counties Tour )  was to visit the Magic Rock taphouse, a brewery which I have been a fan of for a long time, ever since drinking High Wire and Cannonball back in Spring 2013. Opened in 2011 by brothers Richard and Jonny Burhouse and head brewer Stuart Ross the brewery has gone from strength to strength, being named 2nd best new brewery in the world in 2012 by Ratebeer. In 2015 they moved to their current location in Huddersfield a few minutes walk from the town centre and in July of that year opened the tap room with 9 keg and 3 cask lines.  Having met Richard briefly at a Cotteridge Wines tap takeover he was kind enough to organise a little tour of the brewery when we visited, so we were able to take a little peek at it in all its stainless steel glory with its mash tun, kettle/whirlpool, hop back and 8 fermenting vessels. 20160414_191635They average between 4 & 5 brews a week, and every 4th Friday no brewing is done so the entire kit can be deep cleaned. My knowledge of the metric system isn’t great so a hectolitre doesn’t really mean a great deal to me, but Duncan Simes, the bar manager who showed us round, informed us that their current capacity stands at around 1.67 million pints per year, which is a lot of beer. It was also amazing to see the canning line, unfortunately not in operation though, and it can do 3500 cans per hour.  I was a little stunned by how light and insubstantial the unlabelled empty cans are and also by the fact that they order the labels half a million at a time…those big numbers just keep on coming. Once labelled the cans themselves are a thing of beauty, bold, clean branding with brightly contrasted colours and creative cartoon sketches based around a circus theme.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise Richard’s background was in crystals, hence the name Magic Rock, nor had I made the connection between the beer names and the circus characters that their designer, Richard Norgate, had created…too busy enjoying the beers I think.

      20160414_174415 (2)On the Thursday evening that we visited, the tap house had a steady stream of customers including a couple of families since they do allow under 18’s until 8 o’clock.  I’d asked Duncan about their clientele and he said they get all ages in, and although hard to judge reckons around 80% are new customers but there are 20% of great regulars, so it’s a good mix. P1000071We certainly felt at home there as we made our way through the board, Deb going for a 6 glass tasting tray and myself starting off with a couple of decent halves from the cask choice, Rapture, their hoppy American Red ale and Ringmaster, their 3.9% flagship pale ale. Moving on to keg I’d tried Deb’s Simpleton which was so nice I had one of my own, an excellent low abv beer with lots of mango on the nose and not too bitter. After our little brewery tour we did a compare and contrast with the Dark Arts, a surreal stout, on both cask and keg, the latter was nice with lots of chocolate on the nose, but on cask it was smoother with dark fruit and chocolate, and we both definitely prefered this version.  

 

    And then it was time for the big guns…again more by luck than judgement we’d visited just after the launch of the latest iteration of Un-Human Cannonball, their triple ipa.  Wanting a bit more info, and having missed Stuart whilst he enjoyed an afterwork beer at the bar I emailed him to ask the difference between Cannonball, Human Cannonball, and UnHuman Cannonball, and if UHCB changed from year to year, and this is what he replied:-

“UHCB hasn’t really changed in terms of ingredients over the years, we’ve mainly tweaked and improved the process, timings during the brew days, temperatures, fermentation profile and dry hopping method.
UHCB has almost exactly the same (but a lot more) hops as CB however HCB has always had a different hop combination for the dry hop, HCB has changed a little bit over the last 5 years, it started out having some crystal malt which made it a little darker and left a slightly caramel like after the hop character had died down, I think we only used the crystal malt in the first brew.
All the Cannonballs are very pale, very dry, with a clean fermentation profile and aim to show off the hops.”

Well they certainly do a good job of showing off the hops on both beers, really nice fruit coming through and a bit of resinousness, my Untappd review of Human Cannonball said “This is very good, funky on the nose but full of citrus fruit, pine & the resinous quality we’ve come to love”, and for UnHuman Cannonball “Clean, sharp taste, somehow not as boozy as Human, lots of pithy grapefruit”. Have to say these guys really know what they are doing, and the tap house seems a great addition to what was already a very fine Huddersfield beer scene, and next time we will visit at the weekend when the food trucks are there.

Birmingham’s Brewing Boom

I posed (and answered) the question ‘Is Birmingham ready for a brewing boom?’ in an article I wrote for the Birmingham CAMRA branch magazine last December (http://www.birminghamcamra.org.uk/apdf/BOB/BoB_winter_2015.pdf). At the time writing I said ‘I think that the answer to that question is yes!’ and I definitely feel the same now. In fact it’s started happening and this blog provides an update on that article and the changes since last December.

In December 2012 there were five breweries/brewhouses in Birmingham. Since then we have seen three new breweries added to Birmingham’s brewing scene. That’s right THREE new breweries! This brings the city’s grand total up to eight. A boom indeed!! The three new additions are Burning Soul Brewery, The Indian Brewery and the Moseley Beer Company.

So the eight current breweries in Birmingham are Burning Soul Brewery, Edmunds Brewhouse, Froth Blowers Brewing Company Ltd, The Indian Brewery, Moseley Beer Company, Ostlers Ales Ltd, Rock & Roll Brewing Company and Two Towers Brewery Ltd. As Jimmy Cricket used to say “and there’s more”. So please read on for a little information about each brewery and the latest news on the changing Brum brewery scene.

Burning Soul Brewery (@BurningSoulBrew) – Hockley is the latest addition to the Brum brewing scene. It was established in 2016 and will be using a 5 brewer’s barrel (BBL) plant. This is due to be installed in the former Two Towers Brewery site in Hockley. The brewery install starts in July and the plan is to start brewing as soon as possible.

Edmunds Brewhouse  (@edmundsbrewhous) – City Centre –  was established in 2015 when the pub in which it is situated was renovated. They use a Truebrew Technobrewery™ automated 1 BBL system to produce three ales for sale only at Edmunds Brewhouse. This kit means that they add all the ingredients and turn it on to produce the beer.

The Indian Brewery  – (@IndianBrewery) – Great Barr  – is a new brewery for Brum. Although established in 2013 the brewery started at the former Tunnel Brewery in Ansley, however a move in late 2015 means they are now based in Great Barr. They brew on a 6 BBL plant and have a core range of four beers, but also produce special seasonal beers throughout the year. You can find their ales in various pubs around Birmingham.

Moseley Beer Company – (@moseleybeerco ) – Moseley –  is another of the newcomers to the Brum brewing scene. It was established in 2015 and (I believe) they use a 2 BBL plant to currently produce two beers. The have started selling beer to various pubs around Birmingham.

Ostlers Ales Ltd – Harborne – was established in 2013 and is a nano-brewery based at the White Horse pub. Rather than having core range they produce a range of unique ales which they brew for the White Horse, mainly operate during the Winter months. The future may involve brewing expansion as they have recently opened the Wagon and Horses (Cradley Heath).

Froth Blowers Brewing Company Ltd – Erdington – was established in 2013 and began by operating on a 6 BBL plant. Since last December Froth Blowers have expanded to a 20 BBL plant making them the largest brewery (by plant volume) in Birmingham. They brew a core range of three ales along with monthly specials. You can find their ales in various pubs around Birmingham but regularly at the Post Office Vaults (City Centre) and the Woodman (City Centre). They also have a permanent ale in the Wellington (City Centre).

Rock & Roll Brewing Company – (@RocknRollBrew) – Jewellery Quarter –  was established in 2011 and was based above the Lamp Tavern in Barford Street. Since last December the brewery has moved into its new location in the Jewellery Quarter and increased brewing capacity to a 6 BBL plant. Alongside a core range of four ales the brewery also produces special throughout the year and has a second site based at the Blue Bell Cider House, where the beer is also sold. You can find their ales in various pubs around Birmingham, most often at the Anchor (Digbeth).

Two Towers Brewery Ltd – (@TwoTowersAle) – Hockley/Gun Quarter – established in 2010, is a 10 BBL plant. It produces a core range of five ales along with specials throughout the year. Their ales can be found at various Brum pubs but most often at the Rose Villa Tavern (Hockley), the Vine (City Centre), the Bear (Bearwood) and their tap house the Gunmakers Arms (Gun Quarter). Since last December the tap house has been opened and the brewery is currently relocating to be attached and to the rear of this pub, although there will still be a presence in Mott St. Two Towers are also planning a range of key keg beers with the first one available in June.

Some of you may be thinking well what about Aston Manor Brewery Company Ltd (Aston). This was established in 1983 and is the UK’s largest independent cider maker. Although it produces no beer it does have a production and packaging facility in Aston and its logistics hub is based in Witton (Birmingham).

Last December I wrote that the Bad Rabbits Brewery, Digbeth Brewing Company, Glassjaw Brewing Co, Moseley Beer Co and the Rose & Thistle Brewery had plans to open in 2016. We’ve seen that Moseley Beer Co has opened but what of the other four? The Bad Rabbits Brewery are planning on opening a brewery at the Inn on the Green pub (Acocks Green) sometime in 2016 and will be produce real ales as well as key keg beer. The Digbeth Brewing Company announced plans to be based in Digbeth but aside from declaring this on social media not much more is known about their plans. It seems that the plans for Glassjaw Brewing Co are on hold at the moment as one of the partners is now the Head brewer at Green Duck Brew Co (Stourbridge). The Rose and Thistle Brewery were planning a Digbeth-based brewery with lager-style beers, but have altered their plans and are now thinking of Edinburgh. Earlier this month The Humble Pub Company has announced that a brewery will be located at the British Oak (Stirchley) and should be brewing beer in 2016.

So a further potential three new breweries for 2016 and all very stimulating news for Birmingham! What all of these companies need is support from the people of Birmingham so please remember to support local breweries!

 

Darren Campbell, Two Towers Brewery

@twotowersale and @GunmakerBrum

Four Counties Tour

      So our 3 Counties tour became a 4 Counties one once we realised our route was going to take us very close to Phil Hardy’s recently opened bottle shop Otters Tears in Burslem, Staffordshire. 20160413_133315_resizedPhil has done what we’d all like to do and turned his passion into his job and I would encourage anyone in the area to give him a visit. He certainly knows his stuff and has a good selection of beers from the UK and beyond including a few that were new to me, which in the ever-changing beery landscape we live in is not that difficult. Plus he has a little 2 tap keg bar so you can have a swift half whilst chatting and perusing the shelves…in my case it was Salopian Kashmir, a gorgeous hoppy ipa. He also recommended we stop for lunch in Leek at Spout, a cafe/delicatessen with a bottle shop on the floor above… we successfully resisted the temptation to spend more money.

      On arrival in Buxton we checked in to the first of our Premier Inns, and took a stroll, via the delightful Pavilion Gardens, to our main reason for visiting, the Buxton Tap House. We had been earlier this year for a brief visit and vowed to return to try the food and sample more beers. The brewery itself opened in 2009 and 4 years later they decided to open the Tap House in the centre of town about a mile away from where the magic happens and those 4 special ingredients are turned into the drink we all know and love. When it first opened it had 6 cask hand pulls on one side of the bar and 8 keg on the other, but once the brewery decided to stop doing cask ales they added an extra 8 keg taps which they keep at cask temperature for the darker beers. They have kept 2 hand pulls, so apart from the occasional beer festival it is the only place you can drink cask Buxton. P1000044P1000039On our visit the choice was Rednik and High Tor, the latter of which I tried and it was a little like drinking liquid malt loaf. We had picked our dates well, because more by luck than judgement our visit coincided with the release of Kingmaker, a 10.5% Double IPA, so we gradually worked our way up to that. As the evening progressed a 20160413_203013_resizedwide age range of customers came through the door. Being so close to the Opera House they get a lot of older (ie our age) punters in, but because it was open mic night there were also a fair few younger people in. I have to say most of the singers were pretty good and it did seem popular. We headed back to the hotel just after 11 and the place was still buzzing. Foodwise we were impressed as well, nothing out of the ordinary, but very good solid pub grub. And the beer was pretty good too…standouts would be the Red Point ipa, the Guatemalan Coffee Extra Porter, the Kingmaker & Barrel Aged Double Axe, but I did enjoy their interpretations of some Belgian styles.

      The next day we headed a bit further north to the beer mecca that is Huddersfield, and yes if you had told me that a few years back I would’ve laughed in your face. But it is the home of Magic Rock, one of my favourite breweries, (and also the subject of a separate blog post), and some excellent pubs. When we arrived we needed a bit of lunch so headed to the Wood St bar, formerly the home of a Hand Drawn Monkey bar, although they are now sadly defunct. P1000062It was a funky little place selling cask and keg with a friendly guy behind the bar, and they had Mallinsons on, another Huddersfield brewery who I’m quite partial to. Plus they did a decent homemade pizza. Our exploits the next day included yet another bottle shop, Arcade Beers as recommended by Duncan at Magic Rock. This is quite small but still boasts an excellent selection of ales from far and wide, and they have a couple of keg taps so I was able to have a swift half of Mandarina Bavaria Saison by Partizan Brewing whilst chatting about both beer and comics to one of the guys who runs the place. Also on the list of suggestions from a few people was The Sportsman so a little later we headed there for lunch which was good quality pub food with the likes of burgers and pulled pork sandwiches which went very well with their range of beers, Deb and I both stuck to cask with fine ales from Shiny, First Chop, Mallinsons and Lost Industry.  

But the highpoint of the day, as expected, was a visit to The Grove, an unprepossessing pub just outside the ring road that circles the town.  It is only when you see the beer board with 19 cask and 17 keg beers listed you know you’ve come to a place where you can spend a pleasant few hours. I was particularly impressed with the Chunky Monkey Chocolate Stout by Brodie’s Brewery and Chocolate Ice Cream Brown Ale by Omnipollo, but it is a great unpretentious local pub that does have some pretty unusual decor

      Our last full day was in Macclesfield, home of the Red Willow brewery, but before we get to that we had a good wander around with our first stop being at the Treacle Tap. This is a small narrow bar with 3 cask handpulls and 1 keg tap, and judging by all the pump clips on display they have served a lot of beers from breweries both near and far. Into the latter camp is Hopcraft from Wales and the girl behind the bar was just checking out Oceanic that had just come on, so Deb and I both had that, and it was clear and really well kept. P1000096We had another swift half before heading off for coffee and cake because it’s not just all about the beer you know, and then Deb went shopping whilst I visited Brewtique, number 4 in the series of bottle shops I visited. This one was a reasonable size, had a good selection including the USA & Belgium but also a lot of local breweries which again included some new ones to me. And they had 4 keg taps, so was able to chill with a glass of Crossroads from Ilkley whilst perusing the shelves. We met up at the Wharf just out of the centre of town, a busy local with a good choice of cask, a lot of it from Cheshire, Yorkshire and vicinity so we were able to try Allgates, Magic Rock & the Manchester Brewing Company. And then we made our way to The Red Willow bar which had been our raison d’etre for the visit but which flummoxed me a little. Like the Buxton Tap House it is not physically connected to the brewery which is half a mile away, and like them, it did attract a wide clientele rather than just beardy craft drinking hipsters like me. They serve cask and keg, both their own and guests, but also a lot of gin and cocktails and with it being Saturday night I suppose it led to a high turnover of customers who had 1 drink and left, a bit like a circuit bar. There was a part of me which thought you could drop it in the middle of Broad Street in Birmingham and it would be quite at home. I’m not sure if this makes me some kind of snob, and it’s great to see a venue selling such a good variety of beer doing so well, and maybe if we’d have gone there at lunchtime the vibe would have been different, but…  It wasn’t helped by the fact the first barman didn’t seem able to pull proper pint of cask beer, but we did manage a couple of decent beers, Wreckless by Redwillow Brewery and Chinook Plus by Black Jack Beers. To have one final drink we popped into the Brew Station, another bottle shop, #5 I believe, which looked very new, was quite compact and bijou with a fairly limited selection and again had an array of keg taps. Alas the beer was fairly average, maybe a bit too cold, so time to call it a night.

      P1000102Our final pub of the trip was The Young Pretender in Congleton, the sister pub to The Treacle Tap that we’d visited the day before.  This was a little larger than that bar but like that one seemed like it may’ve been a shop in its previous existence, and again had the same chilled atmosphere and fine selection of beer with 10 keg taps and 5 cask lines. I think every beer we had was pretty local, either from Cheshire or, in the case of Summer Wine, Yorkshire, and being lunchtime we each had one of their hearty, locally-made award winning (Great North Pie Co) pie meals.  Add to that a great music selection that went from Miles Davis to John Grant/The Czars to Wilco and I could have quite easily stayed there all day.

      So as you can tell it was a pretty great trip, and on top of all the great beer and food I would also add that the 3 Premier Inns we stayed in were all pretty good, plus it was great to see a fairly thriving coffee scene, especially in Huddersfield.

Beer Tasting with Roberto Ross

     P1000111Tuesday 26th April was our first attendance at one of Roberto Ross’s bottle tastings, this one being held at Tilt in the city centre. We’d had a look at the list beforehand and thought the beers looked interesting and probably more importantly, somewhat different to what we usually drink, thus taking us a little out of our comfort zone. So, along with Roberto, 8 of us, some of whom we already knew and some who may become new beer buddies, adjourned downstairs to sit at a long table underneath the speaker pouring forth many an 80’s classic.  

First up was Jardinier by a California brewery called The Bruery, a very refreshing Belgian P1000112style pale ale with a delightful pink label on the bottle.  It had a clean, sherberty, zingy taste with some fruit and a bit of spiciness at the end, and was quite easy drinking for 4.9%.  The next beer also came from California: Gramarye by the Heretic Brewing Company.  This is an easy drinking pale ale which the brewery says has the “snappy taste of rye.”, and Deb and I found it quite dry but sessionable at only 4.4%, hoppy but not too bitter and with fruit flavours coming through as it warmed up. To Kernel next for their Dry Stout Chinook which as the name suggests is an Irish stout made using Chinook and which was unsurprisingly very dry.  It poured a very dark black with a light head.  On the nose it was a bit ashy and reminiscent of bonfire toffee, although one of our fellow tasters, Catherine, said it reminded her of wet dog, which I think she meant as a compliment; and taste wise it was roasty with a bit of pineyness and dark chocolate.  For beer #4 I turn you over to the brewers, Birrificio Toccalmatto from Italy, for their description of Kaleidoscope, a 6.5% saison – “For our collaboration with Evil Twin, we took a farmhouse ale on a flavor journey: sweet prickly pears, Sicily salt, lactic sourness, Bretta funk … a true kaleidoscope”.  It had very little carbonation, was tart on the nose but very fruity and juicy, so much so that you could almost imagine having it for breakfast, the general consensus being that this was an “interesting beer”.  And now we start to raise the stakes and the abv with the 9% Belgian Strong Dark Ale Embrasse – Peated Oak Aged version from Brouwerij De Dochter van de Korenaar.  Was a bit worried about this one because I’m not a big fan of Islay whiskies but fortunately I didn’t find it too peaty.  Deb said it smelled a bit like smoked maple cured bacon and it did have quite a strong residual sweetness on the back end.  Next we headed back to California for Fire & Eisbock by Mammoth Brewing Company.  An eisbock, I learnt, is made by freezing some of the water out of the beer to concentrate the alcohol and smooth out the flavour and this point was made by the fact that at 10% the beer had no discernable alcohol burn, although it did warm the cheeks a little.  Not much of an aroma to me, but the taste was of raisins, dried fruit and maltiness which gave it quite a rounded flavour.  P1000124The 7th beer was probably my favourite of the night Oculus Sauvage from the Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego, a Belgian-style IPA aged in red wine barrels which is is inoculated with Brettanomyces and uses a Trappist yeast.  As you would expect from this description it had quite a combination of flavours, it was sharp, tangy, hints of sourness, some citrus fruit and a bit of alcohol burn in this one since it was 10.1%.  And as it warmed up a little different flavours came to the fore, it was like “a story in each sip” as Terry memorably said.  And finally it was back to Italy for Birra del Borgo’s Equilibrista (2012), a Bière de Champagne or Bière Brut.  This had a pretty strong winey aroma to me, was quite dry, not an awful lot of fruit, mainly a touch of grape and apple, but well carbonated.  And that was it, a fun enjoyable evening with good company and the chance to drink a few different beers than either Deb or I normally would.