Monthly Archives: May 2012

Mild Magic – the last post

So, farewell then, Mild Magic 2012.

Since the 14th of April I’ve drunk – or at least asked for – mild in 49 different pubs, almost all of which had someone behind the bar who knew all about MM.

The final tally looks like this:

The big three
Robinson’s: 6 (5 1892, 1 1892 Dark)
Hyde’s: 6 (4 1863, 2 Owd Oak)
Holt’s: 6

(So much for my initial impression that light mild was a thing of the past. Maybe this is the case on the ‘guest beer’ circuit, but it’s still going strong locally. Admittedly neither Hyde’s nor Robinson’s call it mild – Hyde’s 1863 is actually badged as a bitter – but that’s another discussion.)

Other tied houses (all dark mild except the last)
Lees: 1
Beartown: 1
Oakwell: 1
Dunham Massey: 1
Boggart: 1
Bootleg: 1 (not mild)

Free houses
Spoons: 10 (8 dark mild, 1 light mild, 1 non-mild)
Other: 15 (9 dark mild, 3 light mild (all Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best), 3 non-mild)

Best milds: Oakwell Dark Mild (New Victoria); Bank Top Dark Mild (Sand Bar); Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best (the Beech); Holt’s Mild (most places)
Most unusual mild (in a successful way): Dunham Massey Chocolate Cherry Mild (Costello’s)
Most unusual mild (in a less successful way): Offbeat Wild Blackberry Mild, Smuttynose Murrican Mild
Mild I hope to see again some time soon: Wolf Woild Moild
Mild I hope never to see again: Coach House Gunpowder Mild
Best-kept secret: Oakwell
Most comfortable pubs: the City; the Hind’s Head; the Crown (Stockport)
Pubs to which I will return: the Railway (Portwood); the Fletcher Moss (Didsbury); the New Oxford (Salford)
Pubs to which I probably won’t: the Sidings, the Baker’s Vaults, the Horse and Farrier

Now, does anyone know what I can do with four pints’ worth of mild tokens for the Stockport Beer and Cider Festival? (Other than going to the Festival and drinking mild all day, that is.) Perhaps another time the prize could be Anything But Mild tokens – it’s just a thought. The experience of Mild Magic should have given us all such a taste for the stuff that we could be relied on to spend our own money on it, after all.

Mild Magic – the last crawl

With this post my travels in pursuit of Mild Magic 2012, Stockport and Manchester CAMRA’s annual effort to promote mild (map here), come to an end.

This was a trip involving walking; lots of walking. It started with a bus route minutely planned out and perhaps a mile of unavoidable walking in total; it didn’t quite work out like that. I started in Longsight with the New Victoria (thanks, John), externally a rather grim-looking estate pub but internally… well, a rather nice estate pub. Unusually, it’s an Oakwell house; the brewery lists the pub on its Website and comments

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Oh well, I’m sure they’ll update it some time. More importantly, the Oakwell Mild they serve there is terrific: a bitter, porter-ish dark mild, without much sweetness but with a really rich flavour, while still being drinkably light. As well as being one of the best milds I’ve had in the last few weeks, it was insanely cheap – sub-Spoons level. I wish I could have had more, but I had buses to catch, places to be.

The next stop, reached quite a while later – a misjudgement of the bus route had left me with a very long walk – was the Sidings in Levenshulme: externally an unprepossessing estate pub, and internally… an unprepossessing estate pub. The sight of a pump with two clips – for Mild and IPA – didn’t inspire confidence, but apparently it was Mild‘s turn on the pump that day, and the barman duly pulled it through for me. I’m normally a bit of a fan of Holt’s Mild, but this was in very poor condition. I drank it up, looked at the posters and left.

The next stop was supposed to be the Hinds Head in Heaton Chapel, but the bus route or my map-reading let me down again. After another long walk I ended up at the Navigation in Heaton Norris, a Beartown pub (another unusual sight), drinking a half of Black Bear in the public. Beartown beers tend to err on the side of sweetness in my experience, and this was no exception; it wasn’t bad (and it was in good nick), but drier would have been better.

From there I found my way – eventually – to the Hinds Head, a sprawling gastro-pub set back from the road. I found a sofa and took the weight off my feet with a half of Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best (which was approximately twice the price of the Oakwell Mild). I give the pub six out of ten, the beer eight and the sofa ten.

I’d come out with four ticks left to get, and I’d been to four pubs. However – I realised at this point – I’d miscalculated, as what I needed was four stickers from pubs in different areas, and I’d already been to the Navigation’s area of Heaton Norris East. Heading back into Stockport with a vague plan of going to the Olde Woolpack (Heaviley), I noticed that the bus I was on was going to Shaw Heath, where not one but two Robinson’s pubs were listed. Something I’d noticed in a couple of Robbies’ pubs on my last trip to Stockport, but never tried for obvious reasons, was Old Tom on draught. The vision formed of getting my very last sticker at a Robinson’s pub and following up the obligatory 1892 by celebrating with a half of Old Tom…

All that remained was to get to Shaw Heath. Getting off the bus I found myself, firstly, lost; and shortly afterwards, in the leafy and attractive Cale Green area, home to yet another Robinson’s pub (the Adswood Hotel). I headed that way. (I don’t think the beer I drank that afternoon is going to make me fat.) However, when I finally got there it was shut. Heading back to the main drag I found myself on Shaw Heath itself, home to the Florist – which was also shut – and, eventually, one very long walk later, the Armoury. This is a small and unpretentious pub, and in many ways looked like the ideal place to finish the crawl. There was no Old Tom, though, and there was piped music, which – as I finished a well-kept half of 1892 and debated whether to get a bottle of Old Tom instead – switched into a rather noisy and energetic slab of grime, or dubstep, or something in that general area. Why this came on is anyone’s guess – I don’t think it was the juke box (and the average age of the few punters in must have been at least 50), but the bar staff looked as if they were trying to ignore it. I tried to ignore it myself for a while, then gave up and called it a day.

Noo I hae been tae balls, and I hae been tae halls
I have been to London and Balquhidder
But the bonniest lassie I e’er did see
She was herdin’ yowes amang the heather

Well, I’ve been to All Saints, Alti, Broadheath, Cheadle, Cheadle North, Cheadle Hulme, Chorlton, Chorlton Green, Didsbury, Didsbury West, Fallowfield, Heaton Chapel, Heaton Norris E, Heaton Norris W, Levenshulme, Longsight, Manchester (all 7 areas), OT, Parrs Wood, Portwood, Rusholme, Sale, Sale North, Salford, Shaw Heath, Stockport (all 3 areas), Timperley and Withington. But the best mild of the lot was probably that Oakwell Mild. Unless it was the Dunham Massey Chocolate Cherry Mild, or Wolf Woild Moild, or Bank Top Dark Mild, or Acorn Lightness (hors de concours). Or possibly one of the others.

Cold sweat breaks out

LADIES! Do you like LAGER? Do you like LOOKING GOOD? Do you like FEELING UNCOMFORTABLY CHILLY?

…no, that’s not going to work.

LADIES! Do you like LAGER? Do you like GLAMOUR? Do you like MEN STARING AT YOUR CHEST?

…OK, maybe that’s a bit too direct.

LADIES! Do you like LAGER? Do you like BEING BEAUTIFUL? Do you like to SHOW OFF YOUR ASSETS?

…that’s it! We have a winner!

I think that’s pretty much how the conversation went.

I’m talking about a poster campaign that Holt’s are running at the moment, following the relaunch of their own-brand lagers Crystal and Diamond. (I have to admit, this is all news to me – but apparently Joey’s do in fact have two house keg lagers, and apparently they are called Crystal and Diamond, and apparently they have just been relaunched. And if you know any more about it than that, you know more than I do.)

The relaunch involves jumping on the “extra cold” bandwagon – both Crystal and Diamond are now available “Extra Cold”. The relaunch – accompanied by a price rise, according to the ad agency – is backed by a series of posters with the slogan “Some things are better extra cold”. I’ve only been able to find one online, on the ad agency’s site: it’s here (warning: not safe for work).

Yes, their jokey example of something that’s “better extra cold” is… a pair of nipples.

Now, I can’t honestly say that my immediate reaction to this poster (and the other one on the same theme I saw in the same pub) was entirely negative; I’m a heterosexual male and there weren’t many people in the pub (or any women), so I didn’t leave until I’d had a good look at both of them. (The posters. Fnarr, fnarr. Settle down.) But… well, really. Looked at from the point of view of a woman – or of a man who likes to share pubs with women – this can’t be a good way for a brewery to decorate its pubs. Come to that, it’s not something I would have expected to see in 1992, let alone 2012. I wouldn’t necessarily expect Holt’s to do anything as modern and go-ahead as trying to attract women drinkers, but it would be nice if they didn’t try to repel them.

I was going to add that the list of things that are “better extra cold” doesn’t include beer anyway, but I have to admit that I’ve never drunk Holt’s Crystal (or Diamond); maybe tongue-numbing refrigeration really is the best way to approach them.

Mild Magic – day 6

This is the penultimate instalment of my travels in pursuit of Mild Magic 2012, Stockport and Manchester CAMRA’s annual effort to promote mild, concentrating this time on the Stockport end of things. (And here’s the map again.)

This was a trip involving unprepossessing pubs, pubs in odd locations and, mostly, rather average beer. I started at the Gateway in Parrs Wood. It’s a big roadhouse-style pub wedged in between two A-roads; an unpromising location these days, but it seems to be doing OK in JDW’s hands. There was no mild on – the barman said they’d ordered two, neither of which came – so I had a half of Gateway (i.e. the pub’s own-brand), which is brewed by Moorhouse. Not sure if it was a hoppy best bitter or a malty pale ale, but pretty nice. The pub, though… I think the critique of JDW’s in general as soulless and un-publike is a bit overblown – my local Spoons’ is the only pub in Manchester where I’ve ever heard a spontaneous sing-song break out – but the Gateway that afternoon was very much like a cross between a hotel lounge and a motorway restaurant, only gloomier. Better beer than most hotels and better food than most motorway restaurants – and cheaper all round – but still; the Moon Under Water it ain’t.

Then I headed south (I decided to give Gatley a miss after my first attempt), walking to Cheadle – through open country, somewhat to my townie surprise – and stopping at the CheadleCheshire Line. This is another roadhouse-style pub, set not so much back from the road as below it; the fields on one side of the road drop away and suddenly you’re looking down on a pub, set alongside an enormous garden centre in the shadow of the M60. (This part of the journey wasn’t very rural.) It’s a big, food-oriented pub, which seemed to be doing all right, despite its almost unwalkable location. There was no mild here either; the barman said they’d had a barrel on, but hardly anyone had drunk it and it had gone off. I had Bateman’s Spring Goddess, which (unless my mental tasting notes are getting hopelessly confused) was also in hoppy-best-bitter/malty-pale-ale no man’s land. It was certainly nice, I remember that.

In Cheadle, the Crown turned out to be a smallish pub with a tunnel-like layout and an atmosphere a bit like the more upmarket working men’s club. I had Hyde’s Owd Oak, which was rather nice – when well-kept it’s a decent, drinkable dark mild.

After Cheadle I had big plans – Woodford! the Church Inn! Woodford and then the Church Inn on the way back! – but I’d misjudged the time, the buses or both, and eventually decided to cut it short with a quick trip to Cheadle Hulme. The Cheadle Hulme is a big, purpose-built roadhouse-type pub on the way out of Cheadle Hulme, set not so much back from the road as above it. It’s light and airy, which made a nice change, but very anonymous and hotel-lounge-ish. Holt’s Mild was as good as ever, but the combination of beige plush and 40 Greatest Love Songs on the widescreen drove me on. Back on the main drag, the King’s Hall is a Spoon’s, which – unusually – was serving nothing at all I liked the look of. I particularly didn’t like the look of the one mild, but needs must. Coach House Gunpowder Mild tastes very like a sweet dark mild, only without actually tasting of beer. I wouldn’t say it was revolting, exactly, but it was the first time on my MM travels that I’ve knocked a mild back as quickly as possible, to get it over with. Then, as I say, there was nothing else on the bar I fancied, so I headed out in search of somewhere else where I could get something decent. Then I gave up and waited for my bus – which was ten minutes late.

Mild of the day: a half of Acorn Lightness, at Pi in Chorlton. A lovely beer – a light mild for golden ale drinkers. Shame about Cheadle Hulme, though.

Mild Magic – missing marvels?

Quick bleg for Manc and Stopfordian readers, and anyone else doing MM in particular: where am I missing? I’ve only got a few spaces left to fill in – are there any absolutely stunning pubs I’ve missed out?

I’ve been to…

All Saints, Alti, Broadheath, Chorlton, Chorlton Green, Didsbury, Didsbury West, Fallowfield, Heaton Norris E, Heaton Norris W, Manchester (all 7 areas), OT, Portwood, Rusholme, Sale, Sale North, Salford, Stockport (all 3 areas) and Withington.

No Spoons or Hyde’s pubs please. (Spoons – not great pubs, or very rarely; Hyde’s – I give up, I just don’t like the beer.)

Mild Magic – day 5

Yet more ticks from Mild Magic 2012, Stockport and Manchester CAMRA’s annual effort to promote mild, concentrating this time on the Stockport end of things. (Here’s the map.)

The first thing that struck me about Stockport was how close together the pubs are; I got round the Swan with Two Necks, the Tiviot, the Baker’s Vaults and the Arden Arms in 45 minutes flat. All four of them served Robinson’s 1892, the beer formerly known as Hatter’s – and, like its Hyde’s near-namesake, now sold without any reference to the word ‘mild’. (This is quite a new development; the landlady in the Tiviot told me the pump clip had been changed the previous day.) It’s not the most exciting beer – nor indeed should it be – but as a bitterish light mild it’s a nice drop. As for the pubs, the Swan’s a nice big multi-room old-style pub and served the nicest beer of the four. The Tiviot was a close second on both counts. The Baker’s Vaults is a rock’n’roll toilet; definite pitch for a particular clientele, beer not great. As for the Arden, the beer was OK (I was very tempted by the Black Beauty but stuck to the 1892); the pub was nice enough, but it has a very strong food orientation these days – I was even greeted by the landlord as I stood at the bar, the assumption apparently being that anyone on their feet must be waiting to “be seated”. My food needs had already been taken care of – passing Titterton’s I’d picked up a roast pork barm for my lunch and a “Stockport beef pie” for Ron – so I stood at the bar and drank up. Another time I might come to the Robinson’s pubs a bit later in the day and stretch to a second half, perhaps even the Old Tom (which all four pubs had on draught, and which is, after all, one of my favourite beers in the world). As it was, a half of 1892 (a 946?) was the order of the day.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man who has sunk two pints of Robinson’s light mild must be on the lookout for something more interesting, and I found it at the Railway in Portwood (otherwise known as “that parade of shops on the other side of the main road from the retail park”). I’d never been there before, but will almost certainly make the trip again in future; it’s a comfortable, pubby pub with a remarkable range of beer, including several from Outstanding (no bad thing). I went for a half of Kelham Island‘s rather cumbersomely-named There’s a ghost in my house, a rich, malty, porter-y dark mild. Then I went for Outstanding’s Standing Out – summed up by Darren a bit back as “a really good mid-strength pale ale”.

After a quick walk back into the centre of Stockport, I headed up Wellington Rd. The blackboard outside the Magnet looked mightily impressive, so I decided to hit the Railway first and finish off there. The Railway had four beers on, mostly from brewers I wasn’t familiar with, and none of them milds. The barman signed my card for me anyway and served me a half of the oddly-named Geeves Bow Hauler. You know what I said yesterday about some beers being citrussy (or Citra-y) but not thin and astringent? This isn’t one of those: a big grapefruit-juice attack, with nothing behind it but a bitter hop finish. I really enjoyed it. I drank it slowly, silently lamenting all the times in the past that I’d drunk beers like this and hated them – what a waste.

The Magnet, like the Railway, is an old-style lounge-and-public pub having a new lease of life as a multi-beer outlet. Unlike the Railway, they had a mild on (Great Heck Dave – yes, that is what it’s called); they had stickers (the barmaid offered me one without me having to ask); and they had a huge range of beer. There wasn’t anything I really fancied, though – it’s odd how that happens sometimes. I stuck with my Dave – a sweetish dark mild with bitter caramel overtones.

I ended up at the Crown, as you do; I could happily have spent all afternoon there (or in the Railway in Portwood, for that matter). Pictish Black Diamond is an oddly light-tasting dark mild – in a bad light it could pass for a dark bitter. Ayr Jolly Beggars is a very nice, full-bodied amber ale. And SWB Barista is a 5.5% ‘espresso stout’, which I’d had before and couldn’t bring myself to resist. It was also the most expensive beer I bought all day, at an eye-watering £1.30 for a half. Drinking in Stockport isn’t going to break the bank.

A good trip out – and that makes it 39 ticks down, 9 to go.

Sinking in the waters green

The Ghost Ship

haunts the sea


When I lived in the south-east Adnam’s was one of the names you’d regularly see on bars, along with Tolly Cobbold and Greene King. Before too long one of them was no more, while one had morphed into a weird kind of junior Whitbread, destroyer of breweries. And Adnam’s? I hadn’t paid them any mind until a few months ago, when I was in a London pub offering Adnam’s Broadside, Shep’s Spitfire and, er, that’s it. I had a couple of pints of Broadside and really enjoyed it; so much for the myth of the conservative regional brewers and their boring brown bitter, I thought, and ordered a pint of Spitfire. Ah. Oh well. Never mind.

So Adnam’s have a pretty good name hereabouts, and I was pleased to be offered a sample of Ghost Ship – a beer they’ve been running for a while as a seasonal, which is going to be a permanent feature of their bottled range. Apart from anything else, it’s nice when PR companies recognise that not everyone can attend press launches on the other side of the country – although Adnam’s event was in Southwold rather than the more usual choice of That London, which may be why their PR was more geographically aware.

The bottle arrived, anyway – a standard 500 ml bottle (I did wonder a bit when they talked about ‘samples’) – and I drank it. Very nice it was too, and actually quite interesting, in a sessionable kind of way. It’s a crisp pale beer, with plenty of Citra in the mix, but there’s a bit more than that going on. It’s not malty by any means, but it’s not thin and astringent in the way that many hoppy yellow beers are; it’s genuinely balanced, to use an over-used term, in a way that makes it all the more drinkable (unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool hop-monster). At the same time, there’s another layer of hop in the aroma, which is smoky and herbal in the best “hop-forward” style. All in all it’s a very drinkable light summer beer, but with some subtleties that emerge gradually over the course of a bottle; not hoppy exactly, but certainly post-hoppy. I’ve raved in the past about low-strength IPAs from St Austell and Holt’s, and there’s something similar – and perhaps more complex – going on here.

Many thanks to the people at Adnam’s; feel free to keep them coming, and I’ll keep on saying what I think.

Coincidentally, this song, which appeared on my folk song blog last week, is sometimes catalogued as “The ghost ship”; my source – more prosaically and more accurately – called it “The ghost song”. (There is a ship, and there’s a ghost on the ship, but it’s not a ghost ship.) My original plan was also to record Robyn Hitchcock’s song (which is called) “The ghost ship”, but midway through practising I got bored with it. Which is why I mostly do folk songs – they don’t wear out so quickly.

Mild Magic – day 4 and a bit

More ticks from Mild Magic 2012, Stockport and Manchester CAMRA’s annual effort to promote mild. (Is there a map? Yes, there is a map.)

In this post I’m going to wazz through the town centre and Salford, running together one decent-sized crawl and two shorter ambles.

I hadn’t been in the Rain Bar before, & the interior came as a surprise: it’s a large, opened-out multi-room pub – the kind of place you sub-consciously expect to see Sunday lunch being served – and about as unlike a ‘bar’ as you can imagine. JW Lees Brewer’s Dark was pretty nice, if unspectacular. Lees are doing some interesting stuff on the quiet, but not much of it was in evidence. Well, there were a couple of variations on session bitter, but nothing particularly strong or unusual – no Moonraker, to name but one.

It was standing-room only in the Grey Horse, not because it was especially busy but because it’s tiny. Two TVs (showing the racing) did battle with the din of as many as ten or twelve people in animated conversation. I drank my half of Hyde’s Mild at the bar and got out. (Presumably it was actually 1863, since (other than that) Hyde’s don’t brew a light mild any more.) Getting visiting celebs to sign a plate rather than a photograph is a nice touch, although it backfires a bit when you can’t actually read the signature (full marks to the late Pete Postlethwaite for thoroughly legible signing).

I know the City of old – I used to work at the council, although for some reason most of my colleagues preferred the Vine next door. The food menu isn’t what it was – I’ve got fond memories of their bacon and egg barms – but the beer is still good; it’s also one of those unusual pubs that has books on display which are actually interesting. I passed a very pleasant ten minutes with a half of Howard Town Mill Town and Ronnie Barker’s memoirs, as you do (and if you don’t, you should try it if you get the chance).

The Ape and Apple joins my growing list of rather agreeable Holt’s pubs; I really have been missing out. (On the other hand, when am I ever in search of a beer in town and not in search of something new and interesting, as served in the City and the Waterhouse? It’s a curse being a ticker, a curse I tell you.) I was less taken with the Crown and Anchor, another Holt’s pub, which had a bit of a hotel-lounge vibe and a large TV mounted over the bar – although in fairness it was (a) muted and (b) showing an old British film. The Mild in both places was reliably good.

From the C&A I headed into Salford and the New Oxford – not the easiest pub to find or to reach, unless of course you’re starting in Salford. And what a very fine pub that is, and what an extraordinary range of cask and bottled beers they have. I was surprised not to see the King’s Arms or the Crescent on the MM list, but in retrospect I’m quite glad of it – if either of them had been there I would never have made it as far as the NO. I had a half of dark mild from a brewery I’m afraid I quite forget Ossett (viz. Dark Ruby Mild – very nice) and followed it with a half of Hawkshead USPA – a beast of an IPA, so dry as to verge on being positively unpleasant. I’d got to like it by the end of the glass, though.

Then back into Manchester – anyone who doubts that Manchester and Salford are separate cities need only walk out of Manchester down Chapel St, then head back via Quay St; I’ve made trips to Liverpool that felt shorter. Being on Quay St I could hardly walk past the new BrewDog bar, but I’ve written about that elsewhere. After that I stopped off at the Paramount, where memory fails me again. It was dark, I know that (the mild, as well as the pub). (Update: somehow the resurfaced memory of the Ossett at the New Oxford has brought the memory of this one with it; it was Rudgate Ruby Mild. It didn’t really stand out, but that’s often the case by this stage of the day.) Apart from the Smuttynose, the 1863 and the TT’s Golden Best, the milds this year have all been dark and treacly; Dunham’s Chocolate Cherry Mild is probably the lightest of them.

Some time later (life intervened) I found myself in the Molly House in the Gay Village, drinking Offbeat Wild Blackberry Mild. I used to spend quite a lot of time drinking in (what wasn’t yet officially labelled as) the Village, first in the New Union & later in Manto. I’m honestly not sure what the appeal was now, although it certainly helped that in those days places like Manto described themselves as ‘mixed’. The Village generally seems a lot less ‘mixed’ than it was, which was probably inevitable and is probably a good thing overall. To cut a long story short, although the MH looks like a terrifically interesting pub on paper (or on their Web site), I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in there, and not only because my beer was on the dear side. (Didn’t much like it either – too heavy on the sweet fruit flavours for me.) Oh well – tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis, and that’s all there is to it.

It had been too long since my last visit to the Castle, finally; I hadn’t even seen their amazing new extended range of bar-pumps and keg taps. Having a bit of spare capacity and a bit of time to kill, I followed a half of Hatter’s Dark (very nice indeed) with a half of keg GBGB (OK) and – O joy – a half of Old Tom, from a pin on the bar. What a very, very fine beer that is – roll on the next Winter Warmer Wander!

31 pubs down, 17 to go. Stockport is calling!

Mild magic – day 3

Greetings to any passing craft beer fans attracted to this blog by me saying nasty things about BrewDog. (And may I just say, that was an excellent half of Zeitgeist – at least, once it had warmed up a bit and lost some of the excess carbonation. Not quite as good as it was on cask, sadly.) I probably won’t mention them again – not in this post, anyway. This being another instalment of my travels in pursuit of Mild Magic 2012, Stockport and Manchester CAMRA’s annual effort to promote mild. There is a map. (I had Edge once; that was a terrific cask mild. Eheu fugaces eh?)

Altrincham is looking a bit sad these days – the town centre seems to have been hit particularly hard by the recession, perhaps because it was already wobbling from the impact of the Trafford Centre. Costello’s, on the other hand, is going from strength to strength. Being the brewery tap for a brewery as versatile as Dunham Massey comes with challenges; when I was in last year the Gold was kegged and the Chocolate Cherry Mild was on stillage in the cellar. Since then the range of handpumps seems to have doubled: both of those were on draught, along with much else; you could spend an increasingly happy afternoon working your way down the bar. Regretfully, I limited myself to a half of CCM, which was excellent as ever: the added flavours blend with the base flavour of the beer instead of drowning it. It’s not even a big chunky dark mild, either – quite a lightish, malty one. It’s a good trick.

By bus to Timperley, where the Quarry Bank – a big, open, multi-room pub – was buzzing. There really isn’t much to say about Hyde’s 18321863; it was in decent condition (and very cheap).

I headed back to Altrincham and walked to Broadheath, also known as “that bit as you’re just coming into Altrincham where you turn off for Oldfield Brow”. Or maybe that’s just in our house. The Old Packet House is a compact street-corner boozer and served a good (if a bit chilly) half of Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best.

The Metro then took me from Navigation Road to Sale, where my first stop was the J. P. Joule. I lived for a while in a flat above the florist’s opposite (now closed), and have vivid memories of what was then Ferguson’s (Bugatti’s after hours); not fond memories, particularly, but vivid ones. Particularly of weeknights when I was trying to get to sleep. The JPJ is a JDW with the usual tunnel-like layout, but with an upper floor which gets a bit more natural light. Wolf Brewery Woild Moild was fantastic, despite the name – a 4.8% strong(ish) mild with a big complex flavour. Joint MOTD (with the CCM, natch).

One thing this year’s MM has impressed on me is that I don’t go to enough Holt’s pubs. It’s true that they only ever have their own three beers, and that all three of them are on the thin side of sessionable – even the IPA – but they’re all, reliably, good. I like the pubs, too – they feel like pubs in Manchester used to (although without the fag smoke). The Mild in the Volunteer on Cross St was as good as ever, as was the IPA (I stopped for another half). The barmaid pulled the IPA through for me; when I asked, she said they don’t sell much of it – “They’re mostly bitter and mild drinkers in here.” Which in itself says something about Holt’s pubs – in a lot of pubs they’d be mostly Guinness and lager drinkers.

Back on the bus, finally, to reach the Bishop Blaize in Old Trafford – the name being another of JDW’s cunning attempts to blend in to the local pub landscape, Tardis-like, by using the name of a local worthy. The Tardis analogy is particularly appropriate here, as the layout is almost identical to the J. P Joule. I went upstairs with a half of Oakleaf May Bee Mild, a seasonal mild flavoured with honey (yes, I see what they did there). I’d like to say it was brilliant and a fitting end to the crawl, but it was… OK.

Next: eight town centre ticks, and around Salford in a half of mild! (Where’s the Crescent? Where’s the King’s Arms? More from NM next year, hopefully.)

Ever get the feeling

I’ve just been to a new bar in the town centre.

Things I like in a pub/bar

  1. A wide variety of beer on tap

Things I don’t like in a pub/bar

  1. High prices for ordinary beers: say 25% higher than I’d expect to pay anywhere else in Manchester for the entry-level draught beer, and 100% higher than you’d pay in some places.
  2. Very, very high prices for mildly unusual beers: if you can get something for £6 a litre in Tesco, it really doesn’t need to cost £7.50 a pint (sorry, £3.75 a half) when it’s on draught.
  3. Ridiculously, insultingly high prices for really unusual beers: £18 a pint (sorry, £5.95 a third) is… well, ridiculous.
  4. Overpriced halves: most pubs are capable of dividing by two and rounding up to the nearest 5p, if they round up at all. When you divide £3.95 by two you don’t get £2.15. (I naively gave the barman £2 and assumed that would cover it. He was quite apologetic about the price difference, and offered to help me out – by selling me a full pint instead.)
  5. Short measures: when I see a line on the side of a glass, I like to see the top of the liquid level with it or slightly above it. I know this isn’t a legal requirement, and I’m sure the 2mm of froth below the line in my glass fell well within the legal limit, but it is a customary expectation. It’s not so much that failing to fill glasses to the line is a rip-off – it’s more that filling to the line or above is a visible sign that the customer’s not being ripped off. Most pubs seem to understand this and have no difficulty doing it.
  6. Obtrusive branding: your average pub doesn’t brand every visible surface with the same company image. Neither does your average McDonald’s, come to that.

More trivial annoyances included chalking up the most expensive beers with an even higher price than the price in the printed menu (which was already insanely high) and giving the cheapest beer on the board a deliberately off-putting name (an annoying little trick, familiar from the wine lists of restaurants with a student clientele).

And – I thought I’d leave this till last – another thing I don’t like in a pub is keg beer. No, hear me out. I don’t like heavily chilled beer: I like to be able to taste the beer. I don’t like obtrusively carbonated beer: I like to be able to taste the beer. Halfway through my half, I swilled it around the glass for twenty seconds or so, giving the beer a chance to warm up and gas out; the effect was extraordinary. The top half of the glass was a reasonably pleasant thirst-quencher; the bottom half was an interesting beer with a big, complex flavour. (Although even then it wasn’t as good as the cask version of fond memory.) I believe them when they say their beer isn’t pasteurised or filtered to the max; once I’d let mine warm up and got rid of some of the CO2, there was a decent beer there. Which makes their commitment to kegging – and kegging in this specific form – all the more of a mystery; it’s almost as if they want people to knock the beer back instead of lingering long enough to appreciate it.

I can see good commercial reasons for kegging; come to that, I can see good commercial reasons for doing most of the things this brewery does. The trouble is, a lot of the time I can’t see any other reasons for the things they do.

Update OK, parts of that may have been a bit over the top, the bit about the blackboard prices in particular. The fact that they’re selling (or trying to sell) some oddity from Nøgne Ø at £5.75 a third doesn’t actually affect me one way or the other, and it certainly offended me much less than being chiselled out of 15p on my half. (Not that I can’t afford 15p! But it really isn’t about the money – it’s about the principle, the principle in question being “Thou shalt not blatantly rip me off and then tell me not to be so uptight.”) I’m not really that fussy about branding as a general thing, either; what really winds me up about their branding is the way they’re trying to scrape up some kind of spurious rebel image by evoking punk, something which for a lot of people meant a hell of a lot more than a stylish choice of exclusive beverage. (Communism’s gone, May ’68 went years ago – the marketers could at least have left punk alone.)

Anyway, the discussion is continuing at B&B – see you over there.