A few weeks ago I stuck my nose into Bar 4Eighty and the Lounge Bar, two bars sitting side-by-side on Chorlton’s main drag, and promptly withdrew – not a draught beer in sight. The next time I passed, the Lounge Bar was no more; it’s now trading under the non-Google-friendly name of My Place (or possibly MyPlace, I’m not sure).
I went in there for a drink this lunchtime. Still no cask beer, but what they did have was a choice of real cider – something I’ve only seen a couple of times before, and a very ambitious choice for a new bar. The choice in this case was between two polypins, standing uncooled behind the bar, offering Saxon’s optimistically-titled Session Cider (5.8%) and the same company’s Strawberry Fields (6.9%). I had a half of the latter, which was bright red and initially struck me as rather sweet, but turned out to be very nice indeed: the underlying taste of the cider was sharp enough, and strong enough, to counter the strawberry flavour. The service wasn’t brilliant – the barmaid went to give me ice without asking if I wanted it, then realised there wasn’t enough room in the tall tumbler she’d served me with and gave me a second tumbler full of ice, to add as I saw fit. I gave in to curiosity, towards the bottom of the glass, and tipped what was left into the ice glass. With its deep red colour it looked very nice – took me back to drinking Negronis in Italy – but the effect on the flavour was disastrous: it basically killed it, leaving nothing but an undistinguished sharpness. You’ve got to wonder what Magner’s tastes like warm, and how many people ever find out.
There was no draught beer, although there was a single unbadged hand-pump on the counter. I got talking to the manager, who said that “the brewery” (I missed the chance to ask him which one) had fitted it today, while he was out, and that it wasn’t what he wanted. What he wanted was to dispense beer the same way he did the cider, from barrels behind the bar – and he intended to talk to the brewery again and get it sorted out. We shall see.
I didn’t ask the guy any particularly searching questions, so I may be doing him an injustice here. But what struck me was that he didn’t seem to be any kind of beer geek – at one point he referred to the barrels he wanted behind the bar as ‘kegs’, for instance. Even so, he liked the idea of dispensing beer by gravity, having casks behind the bar and “making a feature of it” – and he clearly thought it would help the bar to stand out, in what’s locally a very competitive market.
Until fairly recently there were three types of establishment that would have beer on gravity dispense: country pubs which had just never stopped doing it; country pubs which would have stopped doing it if it hadn’t been for the tourist trade; and a few town pubs catering to tickers. For a new bar to put it on from the start suggests that something is shifting in perceptions of cask ale. I’m not crazy about gravity dispense, as I said back here, but one thing it does do very effectively is differentiate real ale from lager. And that differentiation, apparently, is now a selling-point.
An interesting development – although further visits and reports back will certainly be required!