Monthly Archives: May 2013

Mild but hazy

I meant to write some posts about the local CAMRA branches’ Mild Magic promotion this year, following previous years’ posts. The trouble is that I didn’t get round to it before sending the tokens off, so it’s all getting a bit vague. I did complete two or more cards, I remember that, giving me a total of eleventy-three stickers in umpty-two separate areas, which will entitle me to a Mild Magic Wizard sweatshirt with the big droopy sleeves and everything. So that’s something to look forward to. And I’ve got all the ‘free mild’ tokens for the Stockport Beer and Cider Festival that a man who’s just drunk hufty-ten halves of mild in two weeks flat could possibly want. If not more.

(Some of the details in the previous paragraph may not be precisely accurate. It was more like three weeks, for one thing.)

But what was the beer like, and what new and interesting pubs did I get to? I’m really not entirely sure at this point, but I’ll have a bash.

In Chorlton I hit the Sedge Lynn (JDW) and the Beech; the mysteriously-named Leeds Vienna and the reliable Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best, respectively. Mmm, Golden Best.

In Town, there were the (Arndale) Micro Bar, the Waterhouse (JDW), the Rising Sun and the Castle. I’m drawing a bit of a blank all round here, although I’m pretty sure they were all dark. The Castle stands out – Titanic Nautical Mild (just this minute got the pun), a big and unsurprisingly bitter mild at a robust 4.8%. Then there was the Wharf at Deansgate Locks, which is one of those areas of Manchester that seem to have appeared out of a fold in the map over the last few years. Great place to go if you haven’t seen it before – particularly if you like footbridges – but the pub was very Brunning and Price. It felt like a country pub from deepest Cheshire or points south, with prices to match: Conwy Mulberry Dark (3.8%) at £3.60/pint, the dearest mild of this year’s MM by some margin. I felt much more at home in the New Oxford in Salford, which also served the best mild I had on this year’s MM – Black Jack Conasta [sic].

I’ve had a bit of a problem with Mild Magic crawls in previous years, which is that I don’t much like Hyde’s 1863. (I’m not crazy about Robinson’s 1892, either, which is a real problem for serious Stockport crawling.) This year I decided to cut down on the Hyde’s quotient by skipping the Oxford Road crawl (Fallowfield/Withington/Didsbury). Higher up the road, I did manage to get to the Ford Madox Brown (JDW; Vienna again) and Sand Bar (a very nice dark mild from a brewery I hadn’t seen before and now can’t remember – something to do with an anteater, possibly, or else an armadillo).

And so to Altrincham, via the Bishop Blaize (JDW) in Old Trafford (where I do remember the Moorhouse’s Black Cat). Sale offered the J.P. Joule (JDW) and a very nice half of Holt’s Mild at the Volunteer. (This was one of only a couple of places where I was offered a MM sticker without asking; I guess a bearded guy walking in mid-afternoon and ordering a half stands out in some way.) Walking to Ashton and the Plough seemed like a good idea at the time; Hyde’s Light Mild was very welcome when I got there. It was also a lot nicer than I remember 1863 being – is this a rebadge or a new (old?) recipe? In Broadheath the Old Packet House featured its usual handful of regulars who looked as if they’d taken root, and its usual well-kept Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best. In Altrincham, lastly, I headed for Costello’s, where I’d planned to celebrate the end of that day’s crawl by drinking my way… well, drinking some of the way… along the bar: the last time I’d been there they’d had Chocolate Cherry Mild on, plus not only East India Pale Ale but also the strong Gold on handpump. ‘Twas not to be. I like Dunham generally, but if they have a fault it’s a tendency to turn out beer after beer in very much the same low-strength, easy-drinking range. That day the six handpumps offered the light mild as well as Dunham Dark, plus their milk stout and three different bitters – in other words, nothing at all challenging, and nothing over 4.5%. I finished the day with a Red Willow at Altrincham Pi.

That’s sixteen – which just leaves one final, eight-pub crawl, from Stalybridge to Stockport. Featuring the cheapest mild, some of the least comfortable pubs, the emptiest Cuban restaurant and the eternal mystery – what do you do for food in Stockport if you don’t go to the Arden Arms? And what on earth would you do if you didn’t like pies?

Lawnmower beer

I don’t mow the lawn very often. It’s never been the most beautiful lawn, and I’m not really into gardening. I cut it when I think it’s got too long, unless my wife’s got tired of waiting and done it herself; if so, it can wait until the next time it’s got too long.

But when I do mow the lawn, I like to celebrate with a beer. It goes something like this.

Preparation (1). The first couple of times I did this, I started by putting a bottle of beer in the fridge. Experience taught me that half an hour in the fridge has little or no effect. The first step is therefore to put a bottle of beer in the freezer.

Preparation (2). Get the lawnmower out of the garage and plug it in, remembering to use the circuit-breaker. (Which didn’t trip on the one occasion when I did slice the cable, but no matter – it could be useful some day.) Move the slide and the climbing frame. My children get about as much use out of a climbing frame and a three-step moulded plastic slide as you’d expect from a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old – very little and none at all, respectively – but the idea of getting rid of the slide has not been popular. As for the climbing frame, we assembled it in situ, and I think it would take an awful lot of WD40 to get those joints undone again. I don’t think it’s going anywhere… except when I mow the lawn, at which point it makes a stately tripodal progress from one side of the lawn to the other, clanging gently as it goes (there’s a pole hanging from a chain in the middle of the frame). This isn’t that difficult, once you’ve got the knack of elevating two sides and pivoting on the third, but it’s not what you’d call effortless.

The easy bits. There’s a nice, level, flourishing bit of lawn at the house end of the garden. I mow that first (side to side). Then I do the right-hand side of the lawn, top to bottom. Nothing much to report, apart from a tree root the size of a sewer pipe halfway down, and the lawn turning into bare earth at the far end (really must do something about that some time). It’s not hard work, although it is fairly noisy. For a while I mowed the lawn with headphones on, but I abandoned this approach after protestations concerning my rendition of “Dr Luther’s Assistant” by Elvis Costello. (My singing voice has been complimented on numerous occasions; my sing-along-to-Elvis-Costello-over-the-noise-of-the-mower voice, less so.) And empty the grass bin.

The hard bits. Now for the left-hand side. Clang, clang, clang, goes the climbing frame as I walk and pivot it back to where it came from to start with. The slide also goes back to its starting point. The left-hand side of the lawn isn’t much different from the right – as you might expect – but it is rather more severely affected by the tree whose root I referred to just now. It’s a flowering (as in non-fruiting) cherry; it’s at the top left corner of the lawn, and it’s much bigger than it was when the previous owner planted it. I mean, much bigger – the root system especially. The top left corner of the lawn has more or less ceased to exist, replaced by scattered tufts of grass in among a kind of rockery of gnarled and mower-scalped tree roots (a rootery?). Further down it gets pretty bumpy, too. Some of it gets mown top to bottom, some side to side, and by the time I’ve finished it I’m getting pretty thirsty. And empty the grass bin again.

The really hard bit. We’ve got this lawn at the front. It’s tiny. It takes five minutes maximum. Unplug the lawnmower, bring it through to the front, plug it in somewhere else. It’s quite a warm day and I’m getting seriously thirsty now. Come on, let’s get this over with. There, it’s done. Empty the grass bin one last time. Untangle the flex. Put the mower away. Ought to clean it really, but I’m sure it’ll be fine. Used to go over the edges with a pair of shears. Never really noticed when I stopped doing it, though. Wind up the flex. Put the lawnmower away. Done!

The good bit.

Mmm, Duvel

Does it get any better than this? I think not.

She’ll wear a gold ring

Flavourings in beer are something I’m ambivalent about. A good dubbel, or a particularly good stout, will spark off thoughts of coffee, marmalade, dark chocolate, fruitcake and so on without actually being made of anything apart from yeast, hops and grain (and maybe just a bit of sugar). Actually putting coffee, marmalade or whatever into the beer seems like missing the point, and/or trying to take a shortcut. Too often it’s a self-defeating shortcut, as well – you can order ‘bramble overtones’ and end up with a pint of lager and black. Beer should taste of beer – the genius of a beer like Orval is that it tastes unmistakably of (a) marmalade (b) dark chocolate and (c) beer, in no particular order.

Flavourings can work when the brewer bears this in mind – when the flavouring doesn’t get in the way of the base flavour of the beer but works with it & enhances it. I’ve had a few beers that pass this test: I could name Titanic Chocolate and Vanilla Stout, Nook Raspberry Blonde, Thwaites’ Cherry BB1. And now, courtesy of a ‘review bottle’ punted my way by the people at Ultracomida, I can tell you about another one: La Socarrada, a beer made with rosemary and rosemary honey.

La Socarrada is described on the label as a “cervesa artesanal“, which should tell anyone with holiday Spanish that the label isn’t in Spanish. The beer’s produced in Xátiva in Valencia – midway between the city of Valencia and Alicante – where they speak Valencian (more or less the same as Catalan). The bottle’s a rather fetching 75 cl champagne-type bottle (although the cap’s a standard crown cork); it’s labelled with a swing tag so as not to clutter it up. The beer’s 6%; even if you aren’t sharing it, the bottle works out at about the same alcohol content as a couple of pints. It pours a clear gold; my first glass had a slight haze, probably from chilling. It’s a light, clean-tasting beer, with a subtle but very distinctive flavour. The rosemary is present in the aroma more than the flavour; the honey adds a distinct flavour but without adding any sweetness (a very difficult trick to bring off, and an area where many ‘honey beers’ fail badly). And yes, I think you can taste the fact that it’s rosemary honey.

Verdict: clean-tasting without being bland; subtle without being over-complex; very drinkable! Most importantly, this is a beer with flavours, not a flavoured beer. Recommended.

So much to answer for

There’s only one thing you really need to know about the launch event I went to the other week for JW Lees’ Manchester Pale Ale – a busy evening full of sarcastic MCing, warm men in suits, spaced-out DJing, tiny canapes, local legendry, munificent swag and much free beer – and that’s the amount of MPA I put away. Bear in mind that this was a weeknight, and that my ideal beer is something brown and malty – I ‘got’ pale beers a couple of years ago, but they don’t usually make me want to go back for more. Especially not on a weeknight.

Unless they’re really good, that is.

And the answer is: five pints. (Well, four and two halves.) It’s a very fine beer. No prizes for guessing what area of the style palette they’re going for: William Lees-Jones introduced it by saying, inter alia, that they thought they’d succeeded in putting the cream back into Manchester – “and by ‘eck, it’s gorgeous”. (This is probably a reference that’s best kept for the trade, sadly – there must be an awful lot of beer drinkers out there who miss the old Boddington’s bitter, but anyone who’s drinking what goes by that name now won’t be attracted by a much stronger-tasting newcomer.) So it’s a light, sessionable golden ale, but with enough hop character and aroma to earn the ‘pale ale’ tag; it’s got that ‘refreshingly bitter’ quality, particularly on the finish. It doesn’t have the aggressive hopping of a Marble or Titanic, or the smoky aromatic quality of an IPA (or Marston’s EPA); but it has got enough hopping to keep it interesting, and avoid the blandness of so many golden and blonde ales. On a cool evening it was very drinkable indeed; I can only imagine what it would be like on a warm day.

All this and… bloggers! (Well, Tand and Marv.) Bez, being Bez! Radio’s Mark Radcliffe, to whom I would like to apologise for the amount of time I spent hovering six feet away from his table without ever actually approaching! (Mark: sorry. It was late and I was drunk. Might I also mention that my folk music Web site is very good?) The smallest canapes you have ever seen (although, fair play, there were plenty of them)! Free bottles of beer, one of which I swiped for later, before discovering that the goodie bag pressed on us at the end contained a bottle of beer! An amateur photography exhibition curated by the great Kevin Cummins – something of a hero of mine – whom I also didn’t manage to say hello to! (What can I say, I wasn’t 100% sure it was him, and I didn’t want to risk asking some random stranger if he was Kevin Cummins. I’m not sure I’m cut out for this journalism lark.)

And lots and lots of men in suits. (I think I even spotted Richard Leese.) There was an odd sort of two-way disjuncture built in to the event, I felt. On one hand, here was a brewer staking a claim to contemporary relevance, breaking away from the past and making for the cutting edge, and they accompany it with music and visuals that evoke a period 20-30 years in the past. On the other, here were Bez! and Mark Radcliffe!! and Kevin Cummins!!! doing their thing – but they were doing it for an audience of, well, men in suits: Lees’ tenants and managers, most of whom looked as if they’d have been happier with Justin Moorhouse and “Hi Ho Silver Lining”. Perhaps it’s like time travel – Lees’ are collectively travelling forward to the present, but they’re doing it slowly. Next year: the Poll Tax, John Major and “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”.

As for Manchester Pale Ale, I’d recommend it to anyone except the most hardened neophiles and hop-monsters. The bottled version (at 4.1%) is good, but for my money cask (at a mere 3.7%) is where it really scores. At present you’ll need to seek it out in a Lees’ pub, but I think the plan is to sell it into the chain ‘guest’ market (alongside the Deuchars IPAs and Cumberland Ales of this world); I hope it works out.

I was invited to the launch of MPA by the nice people at Tangerine PR and plied with booze and canapes by Lees themselves. Free or not, if I hadn’t liked the beer I wouldn’t have carried on drinking it.