Mild Magic, the road trip (well, bus trip). After crossing off the three areas of Chorlton, the four areas of central Manchester and All Saints, at Friday lunchtime I headed out of town towards Didsbury.
JDW’s Ford Madox Brown in (or just on the townward side of) Rusholme was busy, as Spoons generally are at that time of day; I had a very nice half of Banks’s Black Dragon, a dark mild that’s fruity without being bland. Then on to the Friendship in Fallowfield. The Friendship has a large, four-sided bar in the middle of what’s effectively a single large, square room. Last time I went in there – on a similar mission during the Winter Warmer challenge back in January – I missed the ‘winter warmer’ pump because it was around the corner of the bar from me; I’d assumed, wrongly, that pumps 4-6 would be serving the same thing as pumps 1-3. This time round I made a point of checking round the corner of the bar before I committed myself to anything, but still couldn’t see any mild. I settled on the Daleside Monkey Wrench (a strongish dark bitter), which was rather fine. On handing my card over for signing (I think they ran out of stickers a while ago) I was told that the mild was on the other side of the bar, around the back of the room. I stayed for some lunch and a half of Hyde’s 1863 (confusingly described as a “classic bitter”), which was a perfectly decent light mild. I was pleasantly impressed with both the food and the beer at the Friendship, which is more than I could have said four months ago.
Another pub that made a better impression on me this time round was the Victoria in Withington, where a minor Hornbeam festival seemed to be under way – they had four different Hornbeam beers on, including Black Coral Stout. Very tempting, but it was mild I was after, so I went for the Owd Oak. (I assume this is basically the same beer I drank at the Grey Horse in town, where it was sold as Hyde’s Mild.) Like the 1863, it was perfectly drinkable, and like the 1863 it tasted a bit thin and bland. I was very taken with the Vic, though – I’ll have to find an excuse to go back there. Back on the bus and into Didsbury, only to head straight out of Didsbury again: no pubs on the main drag featured in the list. (I first acquired the taste for mild at the Royal Oak, but I guess they don’t serve anything in that line at the moment.) The next venue on my route was the JDW’s Milson Rhodes on School Lane. It struck me as a big gloomy barn of a place, made still gloomier by a low ceiling and (ironically) some concessions to traditional pub decor (dark wood, plush furniture). Along the bar, Milestone’s Black Pearl mild (of which I know nothing) was ‘coming soon’, but no milds were actually on. I settled for a half of Hawkshead Red, assuming from the name that it would at least tick the ‘malty’ box. What I got was a hop bomb – a prickly, aniseedy hop bomb, rather reminiscent of Buxton’s current range. Impressive stuff, although definitely not a mild.
The bus route gave out on me at this point. I could have baled out and got the bus home, but I decided to make a quick detour and get another couple of ticks. So I headed into Burnage, where the pub of choice was listed as the Albion. This struck me as a proper old working-class boozer (as did most of the customers). It’s a Hyde’s pub, offering a simple choice of… well, what was the choice? There were two handpumps, both with Hydes’ pumpclip present and correct: the standard ‘Bitter’ and a green clip offering something called ‘Light’. I duly asked for a half of light, assuming this was an alternative name for Hyde’s light mild. “We don’t sell Light,” the barman replied, leaning over the bar to check the pump clips as he did so and laying hold of the Light pump handle with a proprietorial air, as if he’d just demonstrated that it wasn’t there. “You can have Bitter or Smooth.” I paid for a half of bitter, and asked if I could have a sticker for my card anyway. This always seems like a slightly silly question, with distinct potential for making me end up looking stupid, and on this occasion it felt sillier than usual. The barman gave me a long, blank stare – so blank that I wondered for a moment if he’d heard me at all – and eventually told me that he didn’t know anything about that and I’d have to ask the landlady, who was on the other side of the room. She then came up to me and asked me the universal question; I asked her about the Mild Magic thing and mentioned that the pub was on the list. Her reply was, “Apparently. You’re about the fourth person to ask about that. No, we don’t sell mild.” So there you have it: the Albion (and by extension Burnage) can be crossed off the list.
By now I was well off my bus route and had no option but a long walk before the next pub. It started raining, but I kept on walking. The rain got heavier, but I went on. The rain turned to hail, but I told myself it would bounce off and walked on. The hail turned back into rain – heavy rain – and I thought, sod this for a game of soldiers, and took shelter under a tree. All in all it took a while to get to the Griffin in Heaton Mersey, and by the time I did I was soaked. It was worth the detour, though. It’s a Holt’s pub: a big building, divided into more rooms than I’ve seen in a single pub for quite a long time. The cask beers on offer are Holt’s Bitter, Mild and IPA. I’ve had the IPA elsewhere, and very nice it was too – a light, easy-drinking, marmaladey American-style IPA, as hard as that is to imagine – but that day I was there for the mild: a sweetish dark mild, very low in alcohol (3.2%) but still with a good depth of flavour, without the thinness I noticed in the Hyde’s milds.
One afternoon, six pubs, five stickers, four different milds. I’m up to 13 on the sticker front now, and I may just call it a day; whether I can fit in another 11 pub visits (in 11 different areas!) between now and the 22nd is frankly a bit dubious. The A6 is looking awfully tempting, though (Longsight, Heaton Norris, Edgeley, Stockport (x3), Portwood, Shaw Heath, Adswood, Great Moor, Hazel Grove…)