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:
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
(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).)