A few quick pub updates from recent wanderings.
When the rumour went round that the Salutation was going to be closed down by its owner, Manchester Metropolitan University (which I should note is my employer), I resisted the general doom and gloom; I had already heard that the pub was staying open, and that it would be run by the Students’ Union. Obviously it would change, a bit, but I was hopeful that the Sal would retain its character – and its excellent beer range. I stuck my head in the other day and found that, of the four hand pumps, only one was in action – the (Pennine Brewery) house bitter. There were a couple of those small blackboard-on-menu-holder arrangements on the bar, advertising Gaymer’s (keg) cider and Jeremiah Weed. Things may change when term starts in a couple of weeks; I’ll reserve judgment till then.
Another pub with a house beer is the (JDW’s) Sedge Lynn in Chorlton. Their arrangement with Brightside has yielded the interesting experiment of a house dark mild (which I foolishly never got round to trying) and – on now – a house golden ale. It’s very light – not-touching-the-sides light – but pleasant in its way. Last time I was in they also had Mordue Belma Red, which puts up a bit more of a fight. Not the prickliest red ale I’ve ever had, but worth £1.80 of any CAMRA member’s money. Some Spoons’ do put some good stuff on. On a couple of occasions recently I’ve seen the same beer on at the Sedge Lynn and Pi or De Nada, both of which obviously charge considerably more – I wonder how the breweries make it pay.
From house beers to house breweries: for me there’s been a small question mark over the beer range at the Horse and Jockey since its takeover by Holt’s. Taking on the Horse – complete with the Bootleg brewery – seemed downright bizarre at the time, although it now looks more like an early sign of Joeys’ new direction. When I looked in the other day they had seven beers on: three Holt’s (Bitter, IPA and the golden ale Two Hoots), two from Bootleg and two guests, from Beartown and Conwy. It’s not the kind of range the Horse had before the takeover, but it’s not bad (I’m a bit of a fan of Conwy).
A couple of doors down from the Horse, the Beech continues to plough its own furrow: lots of Timothy Taylor Landlord and Golden Best, supplemented by three or four guests, some adventurous (Oakham, Salamander) but most not (Hobgoblin, Ruddles). The other night I thought I saw Pedigree on the bar; I looked again and realised it was Pedigree New World, a special using the Pedigree recipe with (you’re ahead of me) New World hops. It was OK, but after one pint I went back to the Landlord.
Electrik have a few distinctions in the crowded Chorlton bar scene: one is having three of their own beers (brewed at Happy Valley), another is having a free jukebox of high quality, while a third is having a wide range of comfortable-looking seats on which it’s actually impossible to get comfortable. When I’m there I’m looking for a chair I can lean back in, with enough light to read by and no draught on my neck; the combination is hard to find, and I usually end up shifting between two or three different seats. I keep going back, though. Last night both their own Bright Spark and the rum stout Black Out were on (I had the latter, which was excellent) as well as the very welcome sight of Ticketybrew Pale Ale. It was, once again, a fantastic beer – and keenly priced at £3.40 a pint.
Lastly, a weekend note. I’ve got a long-established Saturday routine, involving going out early doors for a couple of pints with something to read. It’s a habit I got into when I didn’t know many people in the area, and I’m reluctant to break it now, although I’m conscious it may sometimes make me look anti-social. Last Saturday I divided my time between the Marble Beerhouse and De Nada. I hadn’t had a drink in the Marble for months, & I was very pleased to see that the framed posters which graced the walls for years have been put back up: two of Brendan Dobbin’s unique West Coast Brewery posters, a Thirsty Moon, a Wobbly Bob… They didn’t have any of those beers on, mind you – in fact, they only had one guest (from Marble offshoot Blackjack), although I think another had just gone off. There were five Marble beers, though, and – sign of the times – a guest keg font (Magic Rock High Wire). Sitting on an upholstered bench next to a sleeping cat, reading my paper by the light of the fading evening sun, in complete silence but for the sound of conversations from the far end of the room, I had a pint of Marble Lagonda. And what a mighty beer that is – a full-on pale ale, but with a fruity body in comparison with the more astringent likes of Dobber.
Then, up the road at De Nada, I had an XT 4, which was pleasant if unspectacular; I drank it in between eating the complimentary nibbles, while sitting in a leather armchair, reading by the wall light, listening to a hum of conversation all around me and enjoying the sound of the jukebox (when did you last see a jukebox with Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”?) As a way to spend half an hour it was rather fine.
Getting philosophical for a moment, it struck me afterwards that in those two Saturday pints I’d experienced the difference between a pub and a bar. With the sounds, the nibbles and the dim light, De Nada had a real buzz about it; I really enjoyed being there. With the natural light, the quiet and the cat, the Marble had absolutely no buzz at all – and I really enjoyed being there, but in a different way. It would be pushing it, to say the least, to say that that’s what pubs are like – that’s not even what the Marble’s like when it gets busy. But I do think that experience – “take your beer, sit down, now we’ll leave you to your own thoughts for the next hour or two” – is something you’re much more likely to get in a pub than in a bar; just as the more ‘buzzy’ experience – “enjoy your beer, try some nibbles, do you remember this one? this is cool, isn’t it?” – is very bar-like. I wouldn’t be without either of them.