Monthly Archives: December 2014

The stash

After a bit of pre-Christmas shopping, I find myself with 22 bottles of beer under the stairs (plus a couple which still need a few months’ ageing). Pausing only to check my window locks (there’s some excellent stuff in here, you know) here’s

What’s Under My Stairs

Thwaites’ Wainwright (all right, I didn’t say it was all excellent stuff) (Supermarket purchase)
Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (S)
Orval (local Off-licence)
Okell’s Aile (porter) (Bargain shop)
Corsendonk Agnus (O)
Harbour India Pale Ale (S)
Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (S)
Bosteels Pauwel Kwak (O)
Theakston’s Old Peculier (B)
Moortgat Duvel (S)
Robinson’s Old Tom (S)
Ridgeway Bad King John (S)
Adnams’ Broadside (S)
St Peter’s Christmas Ale (S)
McEwan’s Champion (S)
Thornbridge St Petersburg (O)
Marston’s Owd Roger (B)
Bateman’s Vintage Ale (Aldi (2013))
Rochefort 10 (O)
Paulaner Salvator (O)
Schneider Aventinus (O)
Goudale Abbey Beer (A)

Whether I’ll get through that lot before the next supermarket trip in the New Year is another question. But I’ll see what I can do.

Merry Christmas all, and best wishes for a happy, healthy and appropriately bibulous 2015.

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More wandering

Winter Warmer Wander – quick pre-Christmas update

My earlier tour de Chorlton hadn’t reached as far as Beech Road; I don’t much myself these days. A special outing to the Parlour brought the welcome sight of Red Willow Heartless, flanked by the even more welcome sight of Robinson’s Old Tom. Unfortunately I could only stop for one; it had to be Old Tom. And what a very fine beer that is when it’s in good nick, as it was here. (The price was a bit ‘craft’, though.)

Later, I tackled the ‘Didsbury leg’ of the WWW, with variable results. The Gateway (JDW) in Parrs Wood had Howard Town Dark Peak, a nice if unspectacular dark old ale. I’d only seen the Gateway before when it was quiet; I’d been unfavourably reminded of an empty hotel dining room. Last weekend it was more like a busy hotel dining room. I suppose I didn’t do myself any favours by sitting under one of the TV screens; I was curious to see whether it would feel as if everyone in the room was looking at me (it did). But the Gateway was positively sparse compared to what awaited me up the line at the Milson Rhodes (JDW); the atmosphere there was more like a busy Sergeants’ Mess on a Saturday night. The bar staff managed to find me a sticker, which impressed me, but on the “stick around for another?” scale it was strictly “drink up and get out”. They didn’t have anything dark on, either – I had a half of Adnams’ Broadside, which was fine.

Two Hyde’s pubs were more satisfactory on the ambience front. The Fletcher Moss was heaving – the back room alone seemed to be accommodating three separate Christmas parties – but thanks to its Tardis-like proportions I managed to get a corner to myself. Kelham Island Fairytale of New York – a dark beer made with Belgian yeast – was a borderline qualifier (as well as being very nice); not the easiest beer to order in a busy pub, though, unless you want to be the guy shouting about fairies when there’s a sudden lull. I also had a half of Cameron’s Strongarm, mainly to see what it was like without the Hartlepool Head. (Answer: not as flat, but not as distinctive either.) In Withington, finally, the Victoria also had the Kelham Island beer; I swerved it in favour of a Hyde’s seasonal with the awful title of Yule Rejoice. Another not-quite-old-ale, but a good example of the style – I’d have it again.

There wasn’t any trouble getting a sticker in any of these places (even the Milson Rhodes); the guy serving in the Gateway commented that he was looking forward to doing the WWW himself. The server in the Victoria went so far as to turn round the pump clip on the Hyde’s beer to check that it qualified, which is a first in my experience; fortunately she decided that it did. (If we were being really strict neither that one nor the Kelham Island beer would qualify, as they’re both under 4.5%.) I’m not sure what she would have recommended as an alternative; the only strong beer they had on at the Vic was (Hyde’s) Beer Studio Arctic Blonde, which (while very nice) wouldn’t qualify on style grounds. I guess the fact is that there will always be pubs (and breweries) that don’t see strong dark ales as a commercial proposition; if they can be persuaded to put on session-strength beers in an ‘old ale’ style, that’s a step forward, and it spares people like me from the horrors of ‘Christmas beers’.

Scores on the doors:

Stout: 5
Porter: 3
Old ale: 5
Not quite old ale: 6
No qualifying beers: 3

And the pubs:

Pubs I go to anyway: 7
Once-a-year pubs: 8
PIROTGIMO: 7

(The Fletcher Moss hovered on the edge of qualifying for ‘ought to go in more often’ status, as did the Friendship last time out, but didn’t quite make it. Poor old Hyde’s; they’ll just have to manage without me (unless I’m in Withington, that is).)

PIROTGIMOs and others

Interim report on the Winter Warmer Wander 2014

Doing the WWW for the fourth year running – on top of several Mild Magics and (this year) a foray into the Cider Circuit – reinforced my impression that there are three categories of pubs involved: the pubs I go to anyway; the ones I only go in when there’s a sticker to be collected, and don’t much miss the rest of the year; and (most importantly) the Pubs I Really Ought To Go In More Often, or PIROTGIMOs. (“Pirr-O-jim-oh”? I’m sure I thought of a much better acronym – one you can actually pronounce – on my way home from one crawl, but by the time I got up the next day I’d forgotten it.)

In Chorlton, I’ve already mentioned my slightly unsatisfactory encounters with Oddest and the Marble Beerhouse; I should add that this was early on in the WWW, and the last time I was in the Beerhouse they were serving the celebrated ‘Stouter’ Stout. What I had in the Font escapes me; the last time I was in there, on the other hand, I had Ticketybrew‘s odd but successful Mint Choc Stout, which would certainly qualify. The Sedge Lynn (JDW) had Theakston’s Old Peculier, a beer of which I’ve yet to get tired. No problems on the sticker front except for the Sedge Lynn, where the server managed to find the WWW pack but no stickers.

No stickers could be found at the Paramount (JDW) in town, although to be fair the place was heaving; I thought the server deserved credit for looking at all. Otherwise the only places in town which couldn’t find me a sticker were the Wharf (who, I’m fairly sure, have been reminded about their participation in the WWW already this year) and Bar Fringe (who, er, aren’t in it – but did serve me a very nice half of Facer’s porter). The beer at the Paramount was – as ever – the rather wonderful Elland 1872 Porter, at its full strength of 6.5% and a distinctly un-Spoons-like price of ¬£3.19. The beer at the Wharf was a dark bitter nudging into old ale territory – as was the beer at the Smithfield (although the latter was quite a lot cheaper).

Another few in town: what the Castle were serving I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure it was a stout; certainly this year’s Old Tom n’est pas arriv√©. The Waterhouse (JDW) didn’t have anything particularly dark, but they did have Phoenix Wobbly Bob, and if that’s not an old ale I don’t want to know about it. The Marble Arch had Chocolate Marble, which I reckon can pass for a stout; the Knott Bar and the Crown and Kettle had two of my very favourite dark beers, Red Willow Smokeless (porter) and Ticketybrew Stout, respectively.

Another few pubs dotted about the place: in Rusholme the Ford Madox Brown (JDW) had Full Sail Wassail, a stonking old ale brewed, rather surprisingly, by a brewer from Oregon. Down the road in Fallowfield, the darkest thing the Friendship was serving was Fireside Ale from “Westgate Brewery” (Greene King); the Hyde’s Beer Studio beers looked far more interesting, but paler. What I had in the Great Central (JDW) across the road I couldn’t tell you, although I suspect it was something in the “not quite old ale” category. In Salford, lastly, the New Oxford served… um… a cask stout from a brewery I hadn’t heard of. It was nice, that I can tell you.

That’s sixteen pubs (seventeen with Bar Fringe!), and the beers lined up as follows:

Stout: 5
Porter: 3
Old ale: 3
Not quite old ale: 4
No qualifying beers: 2

Generally there’s a much higher level of ‘compliant’ beers available. The last category but one, above, is perhaps a bit over-critical on my part. I’m not talking about the “Santa’s Drawers” variety of novelty Christmas beers (which I have been reduced to occasionally in past years); all the beers in this category were genuinely darker, spicier and heftier than your average brown bitter. It’s just that, next to something like the Full Sail beer – or Old Peculier, for that matter – they don’t really stand up as capital O, capital A Old Ales. All three of the beers in that category were served in JDW’s, interestingly enough.

As for the pubs, one of the reasons I enjoy these crawls is the feeling of settling down with a beer, looking around and thinking, I really ought to come in here more often. When I get that at two pubs in a row, that’s a good crawl. But then, the pubs I go to anyway are home turf, and as for the once-a-year pubs – well, I can always move on.

So far this year it’s roughly:

Pubs I go to anyway: 7
Once-a-year pubs: 5
PIROTGIMO: 5

Let’s hear it for the Crown and Kettle and Bar Fringe (what a beer range! what a cider range! what great, atmospheric, welcoming pubs); for the New Oxford (I’ll get round to the bottles one of these days); for the Knott, the only bar I know where you can be guaranteed to spot a beer you really fancy immediately after you’ve ordered; and, of course, for the Marble Arch.

Next: Stockport. All those places with an SK postcode – they’ll basically be within walking distance, won’t they?

By ‘eck!

It’s Winter Warmer Wander time again; I’ll write a bit about that another time. It’s going pretty well: I haven’t been reduced to major-brewery Christmas novelty beers yet, and I’ve had some rather fine stouts and porters. (Not so many old ales – but what, as they say, are you going to do.)

Early on, though, I hit a bit of a dry patch in Chorlton, picking up two successive stickers for halves of mid-strength bitter. They had a couple of dark beers on at the Marble Beerhouse, but both on keg; I did try the 7% black rye beer, but I thought I should have something on cask for the purposes of the WWW. So (Manchester) Bitter it was – and what a fine beer that is. In comments threads elsewhere it’s been nominated as a good example of the dry ‘Manchester pale’ style, & hence a decent substitute for Boddies’ for anyone not equipped with a time machine. Having reacquainted myself with it, I’m not entirely sure; I think tastes have evolved in the last decade or two. The Bitter probably occupies very much the same position that Boddies’ once did – at the pale and uncompromisingly dry extreme of the standard bitter flavour spectrum – but that spectrum has broadened and shifted towards the hoppy since Boddies’ heyday. It’s a bit more full-on that Boddies’ would have tasted back then, in other words, unless you were just off the National Express from somewhere where beer actually looks and tastes like beer is a bit different. There’s also something else – but I’ll get to that in a minute.

My second half of bitter was in Oddest, where Blackjack‘s Oddington seemed to be the darkest thing available. Not that it was dark dark, but it did have a definite brownish tinge and a bit of a burnt-caramel flavour to go with it. Despite the name, I concluded, it was nothing like Boddies’; unlike the Marble beer, it was much less pale’n’oppy than Boddies’ bitter was in its time. But then the similarity hit me, literally as an afterthought – or rather, an aftertaste. Oddington has a light, somehow creamy quality to its aftertaste, which I haven’t tasted in very many other beers: Coniston Bluebird bitter is one, and Boddington’s bitter was another. (That ‘cream of Manchester’ slogan didn’t just refer to the head. At least, that’s my theory.) Marble Bitter doesn’t have it; Lees MPA doesn’t have it; but Oddington does. It’s a shame the flavour – and the look – of the beer is so far off its glorious original, but as far as the aftertaste is concerned Blackjack have absolutely nailed it.

Any time they want to collaborate with Marble on something that really tastes like Boddies’, I’ll be ready and waiting!