Part III of my personal Winter Warmer Wander took me down Wilmslow Road, to Fallowfield, Withington and Didsbury. (Part II consisted of two pubs in Chorlton, so I didn’t bother to write about it.)
This leg of the wander wasn’t quite as successful as the first one, although plenty of ale was drunk and ticks ticked. I started at the Ford Madox Brown in Rusholme: a Spoons, and suffering like most Spoons from queues at the bar (queues, in a pub!) But you know what you’re getting in a Spoons – they’re almost pubs but not quite: the model seems to be a weird hybrid of the Harvester cheapo-gastro chain pub-restaurant, a CAMRA-wet-dream cheapo-cask pub and a Blackpool lager barn. They’re not my ideal place to drink, but you do know you’ll be able to get a choice of real ale, in good nick, at good prices. And so it was here, although nothing very “Winter warmer”-ish was available. I had a half of Abbot Reserve – which I guess, at 6.5%, is sort of an old ale – and very nice it was too.
Next stop was the Friendship in Fallowfield. I used to go here quite often on Saturday afternoons, 20-25 years ago; I remember it as a big and rather beautiful pub that was always busy and had a well-stocked jukebox. Well, it’s still a big and beautiful pub, but on this Wednesday lunchtime the punters never outnumbered the bar staff. (The jukebox seems to have gone, too.) I ordered from the three pumps facing me, reasoning that the pumps I could see around the corner of the bar would be the same ones again (“you’re not in a Wetherspoon’s now, Phil”), and hence didn’t realise until I’d sat down with my Hyde’s Special that they were serving Young’s Winter Warmer. A second half was called for. The Friendship are putting some effort in on the cask ale front, with five to choose from and a blackboard listing the number of pints of the stuff they sold last week(!). Unfortunately neither of the beers I had was very good. The Special was just thin and uninteresting; the Winter Warmer had a fair slug of the rich, malty flavour you’d expect, but it also had a faint but definite undertone of stain remover. I’m not an expert in what can go wrong with beer, but I suspect this beer wasn’t in very good nick, possibly because they hadn’t sold very much of it.
On into Withington and the Victoria. I realised when I got in that I’d been expecting this pub to be how it was in the 1980s, waiter service and all. Of course, it was nothing like; it’s been redecorated (probably more than once) and the bell pushes have been taken out. (They’re still visible in the snug at the Beech in Chorlton, albeit beneath several layers of gloss paint.) They were also serving Young’s Winter Warmer, but I decided to go for Cain’s Dragon Heart brown ale. This and the Abbot were the best beers of the afternoon.
Just down the road, I noticed that the Albert still had Wilson’s signage outside. I was intrigued and stuck my nose in. It always was a small and unwelcoming pub, and from my brief inspection today it appears to have shrunk. It also didn’t have any cask beer.
On the way out of Withington towards East Didsbury, I had a half of Pedigree at the Red Lion. (Again, no “winter warmers”; the only other choice in the 4.5%+ bracket was Hobgoblin.) The pub was almost as empty as the Friendship. I started musing on the decline of the English lunch hour: where do all the people who work on Wilmslow Road go on a Wednesday lunchtime? Not to the pub, by the look of it, and quite possibly nowhere at all. I blame the backlash against “Spanish practices” in industry – we should have known that once they got rid of tea breaks the lunch break would be the next to go.
Back on the bus and down to Didsbury. After the Albert, I was amused to see that the Famous Crown was displaying the old Greenall’s emblem. (OK, I’m easily amused. Could be an idea for a pub treasure hunt – “find these examples of defunct signage”.) Whoever is running the pub these days, it’s not on the Wander, so I pressed on to the Royal Oak. Still surprisingly quiet, but there was a bit of life to the place, with lunches being served – the trademark Royal Oak ploughman’s, featuring two large slabs of cheese, about half a small loaf and all the pickles you want. I had one myself, and brought some of the cheese home (the doggie bag always was part of the experience). The cheeses had changed a bit since I was last in there (which, admittedly, was probably under Thatcher): it’s all pre-cut now, and they go big on stuff with bits of fruit and veg in. The sliced onions in vinegar were present and correct, though. The beer was Pedigree, again, and it’s a mark of how far we’ve come that I found this slightly disappointing: I remember when Marston’s pubs like the Royal Oak and the Red Lion were an oasis, the only decent local alternative to keg (I never did acquire the taste of the sour and yellow Hyde’s Anvil). I also had a half of Jennings Soggy Bottom, which was refreshingly light and hoppy.
My ticks were now up to 13, although only the Friendship had had any actual stickers; the landlord at the Vic said he’d run out when the local CAMRA branch came through at the weekend. But I didn’t like to leave it at thirteen, and there was one more pub listed in Didsbury; also, I’d reached the stage of drunkenness where one more drink always seems like a good idea, even though you’re aware it probably isn’t. So I trudged on through Didsbury and out the other side, eventually reaching the Didsbury. Another huge building, and “a traditional Chef and Brewer pub” according to its Web site. Inside, it was the nearest thing to a Spoons since the Ford Madox Brown; it was also the busiest place I’d been in since the Ford Madox Brown. The “winter warmer” drought continued, alas, but I did have a perfectly decent half of Director’s.
Six pubs, seven beers, including one winter warmer (and that one not in very good nick – wish I’d ordered it again in the Vic). If the Wander was meant to get pubs stocking old ales, barleywines and porters, it doesn’t seem to have had much effect down the Wilmslow Road. Nice to have an excuse for visiting some of these places again, though – and getting enough punters through the door for the stickers to run out is a definite result.
And how’s my liver? Adding it all up in a Rabid style:
half of Abbot Reserve, 6.5%
half of Hyde’s Special, 4.5%
half of Young’s Winter Warmer, 5.8%
half of Cain’s Dragon Heart, 5%
half of Pedigree, 4.5%
another half of Pedigree, 4.5%
half of Soggy Bottom, 3.8%
half of Courage Director’s, 5%
Total a.b.v. equivalent: a half at 39.6% OR a pint at 19.8% OR five pints at 3.96%… call it 4%
Units of alcohol in a pint at 4%: 0.04 * 0.568 = 2.272 = two and a quarter near as dammit
Units of alcohol in five ditto: five times two and a quarter = 5 * 9/4 = (5*9)/4 = 45/4 = 11.25
(Or if you prefer, units of alcohol worked out properly: 39.6*0.284 = 11.2464 = 11.25 to two decimal places. Nice to see a sum I couldn’t have done without a calculator arrive at the same result as beermat arithmetic.)