Category Archives: CAMRA Man

Around Manchester on a pint of mild (3)

One more post on Mild Magic, CAMRA’s annual campaign to promote mild around Manchester.

When I started this blog back in 2010, one of the first things I posted was a series of posts on “my local” – I was lucky enough to have four pubs and bars to choose from. All four are still trading, although with the exception of the Wetherspoon’s they’re all under different management. Of the other three, two – the Beerhouse and the Hillary Step – are more or less recognisable as the same place they were, with a formula that the incoming management have altered but not overturned.

The Beech, though, is an almost completely different pub, with the snug opened out and large screens – and piped music – in every room. Not, I have to say, my cup of tea. Still, at all but its very lowest points the Beech has been dependable for beer quality, with a longstanding association with Timothy Taylor’s, and I’m happy to say that both of these are still the case. I didn’t stop long enough to find out if the Landlord and Boltmaker were as good as I remember them being, but I can report that the Brightside Umbra was in good nick. It’s an odd one for a dark mild, with a lot of roasty bitterness and very little sweetness; if you’d told me it was a light stout I wouldn’t have argued. Good stuff, though.

I had the Beech, and its many screens, more or less to myself on this Friday afternoon, but as I approached the Bowling Green things looked decidedly more lively. In fact it was buzzing. Actually it was a bit too busy, and what was that? a sign asking customers to place all orders at the desk? I approached close enough to the lad on the said desk for him to accost me and ask whether I was with the funeral. Ah.

Fortunately there was another pub handy, in the shape of the Horse and Jockey. In its latterday form as a gastropub, it was deserted and rather unwelcoming. I took my pint of Holt’s mild outside; it was fine, but no more than that.

On another Friday afternoon, the bus took me to Urmston and the Lord Nelson – a pub I’ve only ever visited in daytime, and which always looks as if it’s going to be a lot livelier in the evening; not in an unwelcoming way, though. The Holt’s mild here was excellent, for what that’s worth.

A walk into the centre brought me to the Prairie Schooner, the Music for the Soul secondhand record shop, and – more to the point – the Tim Bobbin (JDW), where I had another pint of Brightside Umbra (for about half the price the Beech had charged). The sticker sheet had gone walkabout, so I returned to the bar afterwards to get a signature, only to be stuck behind an old bloke who was having a pint of Coors dispensed from the slowest keg tap you have ever seen. And a slightly lairy-looking guy who lunged up to the bar, counted out some coins, said something about ifmyturncomesroundandI’mnotherecheersta and disappeared out of the front entrance, presumably for a smoke. (The bartender, still drawing the endless pint of Coors, ignored this approach completely and rolled her eyes as he left.) Then it turned out that the old bloke with the Coors wasn’t just ordering the one pint; in fact I had to wait until the bartender had pulled four of them, by which time there was a small crowd waiting and I felt quite bad about monopolising the bartender’s attention. Still, I seized my moment and got… the bartender’s initials in the box on the form. (This was actually the only place I came away from without a sticker this year.) Outside I met ifmyturncomesround guy, although as it turned out he wasn’t smoking; in fact he was riding a pushbike in circles on the pavement. He asked if there was still a queue at the bar, then answered himself (ahyouwouldn’tknowwouldyou) and headed inside to find out, wheeling the bike. JDW’s, all human life is there.

There was no drama at the Prairie Schooner – not least because it wasn’t on the MM list – but I’ll talk about it anyway. There was an opportunity to compare and contrast Loch Lomond‘s single-hop DIPAs Lost in Citra and Lost in Mosaic (verdict: the Citra works better than the Mosaic, unless you like an undertone of burnt toast with your fruit cocktail). Also at the Schooner, a wall entirely covered with past pump badges; I was able to count 20 different TicketyBrew beers, half of which I never had, alas. (Also a few from Cryptic – and doubtless from other former breweries of quality.)

And then to Didsbury. Wine and Wallop and I have (slightly tetchy) history with regard to MM, so it’s nice to be able to report that they had a mild on, and that it was a very nice pint. It’d be even nicer if I could remember which mild it was. I blame their bizarre decision to operate on table service only, while still having draught beers on the bar (and not on a menu, blackboard etc, at least as far as I could see). I distinctly remember thinking, halfway down the pint, what is this again? and straining to read the pump clip from my seat (I appear to be drinking… Binny Stritchly’s Dank Mick… can that possibly be right?). I don’t distinctly remember what I eventually worked it out to be, sadly. Still: they’re serving mild – and giving out stickers – so fair play to them.

There was more nomenclatural (it’s a word) consternation at the Fletcher Moss, which turns out to have been the only Hyde’s pub I visited on this year’s MM. Despite sponsoring MM, Hyde’s seem determined not to sell anything actually called Mild. As I understand it Hyde’s light mild is still on sale as 1863 (although as Hyde’s currently badge it as a “chestnut session ale” I wonder if it’s as light as it used to be), but the dark mild is no longer Owd Oak or even Old Indie; it’s… (You have to imagine this entire paragraph playing out, with increasing rapidity, in my head as I studied the pump clips at the Fletcher Moss.) In the end I plumped for Dark Ruby (“a very dark ruby red beer”), as much on the basis of its strength (3.5%) as anything else. A pint of it in the beer garden went down quite nicely.

Lastly to East Didsbury and the Gateway (JDW), where they were between milds. As remnants of their ‘beer festival’ were still visible, I took the opportunity to settle a question from the Waterhouse – where

There was a pump for Rudgate Ruby Mild, which is what I duly ordered, but I didn’t see the server draw it – she disappeared to the other end of the bar and came back with my pint some minutes later. (I checked afterwards and there wasn’t another mild tap at that end.) Maybe she had it ‘banked’, although I can’t imagine why.

The only other dark beer it could have been was an Italian porter – Foglie d’Erba Hot Night at the Village – which, as luck would have it, was on the bar at the Gateway. So I had a half. It was good, but it was definitely a porter – which means I did have the Rudgate mild. Nice to get these things settled.

There was very nearly a problem with the stickers at the Gateway, albeit an unusual kind of problem – I overheard two members of staff debating whether, considering they hadn’t had a mild on, I should have been given a sticker. Fortunately they didn’t confiscate it for being obtained under false pretences. They were also pulling through Titanic Classic Mild at the time, and as I’d only had a half of the porter it seemed rude not to have a half of that as well.

Six pubs and one bar; seven venues, seven milds, six stickers. Overall, 23 out of 24 were giving out stickers and – more importantly – 20 out of 24 had mild on. Several old favourites it was nice to visit again – Costello’s, the Stalybridge Buffet Bar and of course the Tap – and four places I’d never been before (Ladybarn SC, Tapsters, the Halfway House and Bridge Beers). (And I really must get back to Reasons one of these days.)

Many thanks to the organisers for making Mild Magic possible, again – it’s good to have it back.

Around Manchester on a pint of mild (2)

More on Mild Magic, CAMRA’s annual campaign to promote mild around Manchester.

One of the pleasures of Mild Magic is connecting up assorted pubs and bars in a single route – particularly when it means getting to somewhere you don’t usually go without having to make a special trip. It doesn’t always work out; this time round I decided not to fit Reasons to be Cheerful into my Didsbury trip (of which more anon), but never managed to work out another route it would fit into. What I did manage this year, courtesy of a £10 all-you-can-eat bus/train/tram pass, was Stalybridge via Droylsden and Ashton.

At the Silly Country my notes have let me down; I could tell you what was on two of the handpumps (viz. two different flavoured ciders); I could draw you a map of the layout and tell you where I was sitting; I could even name several of the books on the bookshelves, but I can’t tell you the name of the dark mild I had. It was pretty good, though. (It definitely wasn’t Pomona Mild Peril, which TSC had had on, as that’s 6% and I would have (a) remembered and (b) had a half.) The Silly Country – a craft beer bar in a shopping-centre unit, in Droylsden – wouldn’t have been on my list of Bars Most Likely To Succeed, but it’s been there four years now and seems to be doing OK (and the mild, whatever it was, was in good nick). Good luck to them.

Back on the tram to Ashton, where I decided to tick off the (restricted-opening) Halfway House before trying anywhere more central. I’m not sure where it’s halfway to, but it would have to be pretty good if you were going to get me doing the other half on foot. I did get a bus part of the way, but ‘part’ was the operative word – the usually-reliable Moovit app suggested that my best route was “get on bus, sit down, count to ten, stand up, get off bus, walk uphill through terraced streets for 15 minutes”, and like a fool I believed it. The Halfway House turned out to be a back street pub on the old “large detached house” model, with three rooms, three customers and two handpumps. They had had a mild on, apparently, but no longer; I had a pint of Bass, which was perfectly fine.

Then back into the centre, which took a while – that side of Ashton isn’t really optimised for foot traffic – and took me down a lot of streets where all the shops were closed and there was nobody around but bored teenagers. As it was a Saturday lunchtime this seemed odd, to say no more than that. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by living in Chorlton. Fortified by a couple of pies from the covered market, I went in search of Tapster’s, and found… a nightclub. A nightclub from the 1970s or 80s, specifically – chrome, deep pile carpets, black leather, low lighting… And, er, cask beer. There was no mild on, so I had a half of Bridge Beers Galaxy. The bartender told me they had a Bridge Beers mild, but it was still settling; we had a bit of a chat about the brewery, who he rated highly.

Next stop was the aforesaid bridge – viz. Staly – and my first call was Bridge Beers itself, where the brewery’s beers are served on gravity, from nines behind the bar. I had a half of Bridge Beers mild, which was really good. Ordinarily I would have either made it a pint or stopped for another half or two – I’d enjoyed the Galaxy & was quite tempted by the “Galaxy Export Strength”, even though “export strength” turned out to be 5% – but.. Well, it’s a social distancing thing, or rather an ‘enclosed space’ thing. I’d managed to mute, or at least snooze, my inner Covid Alert in all the places I’d visited so far – “well, it’s quite airy”; “well, it’s quite a big place”; “OK, it’s a small place with no windows at all, but… actually it’s quite big, and anyway there’s hardly anyone in”… But Bridge Beers was (a) tiny, (b) packed (there must have been eight other customers in there, maybe even ten) and (c) frankly a bit stuffy – you know how, when you’re in a crowded room, after a while the air starts to feel a bit moist? That.

So I regretfully supped up and moved on to my last stop of the day, the Buffet Bar. I went there 28 years ago to my certain knowledge (and that may not have been the first time); it hasn’t changed a lot. Sadly there wasn’t a mild to be had, but as they had Jaipur on cask I didn’t feel too hard done by. A half of that was followed by a half of Thornbridge/Neon Raptor Pandora’s Box, an 8% DIPA (on keg, naturally). Which was fine – lots of tropical fruit, lots of alcohol – but no more than that; I should just have had a pint of Jaipur, or maybe two.

Another trip out took me to Sale and Altrincham – not an actual train trip, admittedly, although it did involve travelling on a railway line.

In Sale I decided against trekking up the A56 to the Volunteer, and went to the J. P. Joule (JDW) next to the stationtram stop. It was early in the day, so I broke my rule and had a half, of Phoenix Monkeytown Mild. It was a fairly light-bodied dark mild, not particularly sweet, with a slightly stout-like bitter finish. I wasn’t bowled over, but it would probably work better over a full pint.

In Altrincham I went to the Old Market Tavern. I’ve seen it buzzing in the past, but that was at night. On this particular Saturday lunchtime, this big, open pub, a bit outside the town centre, not serving food (despite signs claiming otherwise), was about as busy as you’d expect. I imagine food service was a casualty of the pandemic, as I think was also the case for the Buffet Bar. Bringing it back would be a big step, but without it a place like the Old Market has lost a lot of its appeal, at least during the day. They also didn’t have any mild on, but a pint of Lees‘ MPA was very welcome.

Then it was over to Costello’s, where I was back on halves; the Dunham Dark would have been well worth a pint, but there was the Porter to fit in (malt extract and tobacco smoke), not to mention the Lymm Lymm Dam. There’s a certain kind of beer of which I always want to say that it “rings like a bell”. I’m not entirely sure what I mean by that(!), but it’s usually an old ale, an abbey beer or a top-end strong bitter; Ticketybrew Pale qualified, for example. It’s a certain combination of body, fullness of flavour (without cloying sweetness or cough-mixture heaviness) and strength. Anyway, that half of Lymm Dam absolutely rang like a bell. (And the Dunham Dark was a very good mild.)

Three pubs and five bars – or if you’re being picky, three pubs, four bars and one micro-pub; quite a variety of places, anyway. And eight venues got me eight stickers and five milds – a bit less impressive than the 8/9 scored by central Manchester and Stockport (see previous post), but not bad.

Next: making some local calls.

Around Manchester on a pint of mild (1)

Mild Magic – CAMRA’s annual campaign to promote mild around Manchester – is back for 2022; slightly to my surprise, I’m even taking part myself. (“Look how the figures are falling at the moment” did battle with “Look at all the people who’ve been posting pictures of their positive tests”; it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but optimism eventually won, thanks in part to an intervention by “it’s not as if I’m not going to the pub already”.) 24 pubs, 24 different areas, mostly on weekday afternoons (being a part-timer has its benefits) – it’s been fun, and hopefully it hasn’t been excessively risky.

The main difference with previous years, as far as I’m concerned, is that I’ve decided to have a pint where possible. The weekday afternoon trade tends to be slack, for obvious reasons, and in previous years’ MMs I’ve sat in quite a few pubs and bars that were otherwise completely empty. If I was going to be the only custom a bar had in half an hour, I didn’t want to seem like a cheapskate into the bargain – especially post-pandemic. Also, it’s mild – a good mild should be pintable, even to the point of being a “disappearing beer“.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the first instalment of pubs on this year’s MM itinerary, covering central Manchester and Stockport.

I started at the Briton’s Protection, a landmark pub with reliably good and interesting beer, now sadly under threat (petition here). The mild they had on was 4Ts Old School, which was… fine. To be more positive about it, it was – as the name implies – an old-school dark mild: malty, sweetish, light-textured, absolutely nothing striking or unexpected about it. Which meant that it went down very easily.

I had an odd experience at the Waterhouse (JDW). There was a pump for Rudgate Ruby Mild, which is what I duly ordered, but I didn’t see the server draw it – she disappeared to the other end of the bar and came back with my pint some minutes later. (I checked afterwards and there wasn’t another mild tap at that end.) Maybe she had it ‘banked’, although I can’t imagine why. It was a nice mild, anyway – fruity and full-flavoured, with a lot of body.

Also in – or near – the city centre are the New Oxford and the Piccadilly Tap; I know I had a mild in both places but I didn’t make a note of it, sadly. Both places had a big range of beers on tap, as ever – and, as ever, an impressive range of Belgian bottles at the Oxford – but nothing that made me feel the need to stop for another.

A city-centre pub that wasn’t an old haunt of mine – I think I’d only been in once before – was the Lower Turk’s Head. There are pubs that, when you see them in daylight, look as if they come into their own at night, and the Turk’s Head was definitely one of those. The Holt’s Cherry Mild was excellent, though – not especially sweet or fruity, but a big, complex flavour, far superior to the standard mild.

As for the Stockport leg of my MM journey, that began at the Ladybarn Social Club. I was initially foxed by the “entry by key fob only” notice on the door and considered going elsewhere, before reasoning that it must be possible for non-members to get in and trying the door buzzer. Of course, it was fine – just a matter of signing in as a guest – and I had a pint of Dunham’s Chocolate Cherry Mild, which was really good. The signing-in process took a bit of a while to organise, as did the hunt for the MM stickers, and I was slightly concerned that I was going to miss the next bus. Once I’d got my pint, I realised I needn’t have worried. The flavour of the CCM is just as big as the name implies, but the chocolate and cherry notes don’t feel bolted-on – it just tastes like a dark mild that happens to taste of those things. (Cf. Ticketybrew’s “Frankenstein beers” with hops-and-barley flavour profiles duplicated – and heightened – by the use of additions.) And it goes down extraordinarily easily. After this and the 4Ts, I started to wonder if the roster of disappearing beers needed to be updated to include traditional dark milds (and some less traditional ones).

In Stockport itself, the recently-revived Crown didn’t have a mild on, but only because it had run off the previous night, when (the licensees were keen to impress on me) the place had been rammed. It was Sunday afternoon, just after lunch; I had a half of Brimstage Oystercatcher stout, and I didn’t see another soul while I was there. It’s hard to come back from closure, and I wish the new licensees luck with it.

The Cocked Hat, by contrast, had a good complement of regulars, a word which here means “person sitting at the bar who looks round at you suspiciously as you come in” (an experience I’ve had in there before, although oddly enough the pub was under different management). It also had big screen sport with the sound off, together with piped music – a weird and unappealing combination (also seen at the Lower Turk’s Head). I decided to break my pint rule and had a half of Timothy Taylor’s Dark Mild – a fairly rare bird, which I’ve enjoyed a lot in the past. Either it’s not as good now as it used to be or the half I had was in poor nick; I wasn’t impressed, anyway.

Lastly, I broke the pints rule again at the Petersgate Tap, but this was because they had Ashover Victorian Ruby Mild on – and it’s 7%. There’s no reason to imagine that a Victorian time traveller would call it anything but a mild – and matching Victorian styles to anything we’d recognise now is a mug’s game – and  but for what it’s worth this tasted like a strong old ale or a light-ish barley wine; it was terrific, either way. (But a half was enough.)

Counting the Ladybarn SC as a pub – and it’s certainly the pubbiest social club I’ve ever seen; I could name pubs that look more like a social club – that’s seven pubs and two bars; nine venues, nine stickers, eight milds.

Next: two train trips

CIDER for everyone

I’ve just completed the CAMRA Inclusivity, Diversity and Equality Review (coincidence???), which you can find here. It struck me part-way through that it was the kind of stuff I tend to blather on about here – so I saved my comments as I went along, and here they are.

Are CAMRA meetings and events welcoming?

CAMRA meetings and local branch events are as welcoming – and as diverse – as the people who attend. Personally I’ve felt entirely at home at the branch events I’ve been to, and I think that’s mostly because the regulars at both my local branches are nice people. But it’s undeniable that, as a middle-aged White guy, I see a lot of people like me at those events – and what makes me feel that bit more at home will have the opposite effect on a lot of people. So CAMRA events do have some demographic issues, because CAMRA as a membership organisation has those issues (in terms of age as well as sex and ethnicity) – but addressing those is for the long haul; there’s certainly no way CAMRA nationally can micro-manage them now.

As for beer festivals, I have every confidence in CAMRA’s commitment to creating a safe and inclusive environment, and I trust the organisers on the ground to put the work in to make this happen. What we’ve seen over the last few years is that much greater diversity (compared to CAMRA’s early years) is already a reality on the festival floor. We sometimes forget, when we hear stories of CAMRA organisers having offensive pump clips or merchandise banned, that they’re responding to (or anticipating) complaints – and there wouldn’t be any complaints if the festival crowd was still made up of bearded beer-monsters.

Admittedly I’m male and I go back to the 70s – as a real ale drinker if not as a CAMRA member – so I’m really not the person to judge. That said, my impression is that festivals are a lot more inclusive and a lot safer – which is to say, a lot less male-dominated and a lot less likely to get a bit lairy towards the end of the day – than they were even when I started attending regularly.

How could CAMRA deal better with complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination?

A confidential ‘hotline’ (or email address) and a dedicated team dealing with allegations would help. It would also help, in terms of acceptability to the membership, if the team didn’t go in two-footed but confined itself to offering ‘words of advice’ (in the police’s phrase), plus a bit of mandatory training; if there is anyone out there who CAMRA needs to be rid of, that would probably be quite enough to make them take the hump and leave.

How well is CAMRA appealing to a diverse audience?

CAMRA’s in an incredibly difficult position. How does an organisation whose membership is very largely White and/or male and/or middle-aged or older sell itself to all the people outside those demographics (or even to the large majority of society which is outside the intersection of all three) without either

(a) looking “pale, male and stale”, i.e. thoroughly unappealing
or
(b) making CAMRA look a lot more diverse than it (or at least its active membership) actually is?

Have you ever volunteered for CAMRA? You haven’t? What’s the matter with you?

Honest answer: never really fancied the more public-facing roles – let alone the more heavy-load-shifting roles – but a few years ago I did think I’d give it bartending a go and volunteered at a smaller local festival. We were mobbed – I worked a hand-pump for two hours solid, left thirstier than I’d arrived and had a sore arm for the next week. After that I never really wanted to try again.

What should CAMRA do now?

I don’t think CAMRA should make any sudden movements, for fear of repelling more people than it would attract (simply because it’s so much easier to cancel a sub than to take one out). What we’re seeing is a big demographic shift working its way through the organisation, and as far as I can see everyone in a responsible position is committed to letting it happen, if not helping it along (this is certainly true of local organisers where I am). Good – keep it up!

Bah, humbug!

CAMRA’s Winter Warmer Wander is going to have to manage without me this year. I got off to a reasonable, if rather belated, start – the Winter Warmer Wander seems to come round earlier every year…! In Manchester town centre I picked up stickers for Titanic Plum Porter at the Paramount, a chocolate and vanilla stout at the Castle and a chilli stout at the Crown and Kettle; a visit to the Petersgate Tap also let me tick off Ashover‘s uncompromisingly-named Liquorice, which I can honestly say is the most liquorice-tasting beer I’ve ever drunk. It’s only a pity I can’t stand liquorice. (Fortunately it didn’t have the (ahem) medicinal effects that I remember from Ticketybrew‘s liquorice-infused Invalid Stout – but then, I did have multiple pints of that.)

After that I was a bit busy for the first half of December, and then I caught my usual pre-Christmas cold, and then there was really no time to fit in enough beers for the 24 stickers I’d usually aim for. I thought I might be able to manage the 12, though, and headed Stockportwards.

The Wine & Wallop had a better dark beer selection than I’ve seen there sometimes, with two to choose from; Yeovil Yeo Ho Ho was a rather nice hoppy stout. From there it was a short – well, no, quite a long – walk to my current favourite bar, Burnage’s Reasons to be Cheerful. I never have a beer in Reasons without seeing one or two others I’d like to try, and this time it was more like five or six.

Stockport was calling, though. A bus journey and short walk later, I was in the Crown on Heaton Lane. I’ve seen pubs in decline before; generally the symptoms include a severely truncated beer range, dilapidated fixtures and fittings, and a pervasive smell of bleach. The Crown looked – and smelt – immaculate: heavy wood furniture, buttoned leather bench seating, etched mirrors and windows, even bellpushes in the panelling; a better example of the old-school multi-room pub you couldn’t hope to find. The beer range had been reduced since the last time I was in, but six handpumps – mostly serving well-respected local breweries – is still more than most pubs can boast. But the heart seemed to have gone out of the place, and the customers seemed to have followed; on a fine Saturday afternoon, the barman and I were the only people in the place. The only dark beer on was Titanic Plum Porter; it’s a good beer when it’s kept well, and it was here.

One of the nice things about coming to Stockport for the Wander is getting the chance to drink Old Tom on draught; there was a time when Robbie’s pubs in Manchester would have a pin of Old Tom on the go at this time of year, but I haven’t seen it outside Stockport in a long time. So I made a beeline for the Swan With Two Necks, where I had a half of Old Tom and eavesdropped on a late entry for Scariest Conversation of 2019: what initially sounded like somebody describing a film (“so he reckoned he had to get his revenge on the drug lord who killed his brother”), but then didn’t (“so I said, I’m not going out there for the funeral, I’m not going anywhere near it – my uncle went in the end, and even he was shit-scared”). Stockport, eh?

One of the really nice things about coming to Stockport for the Wander is getting the chance to drink two halves of Old Tom on draught in succession. The Baker’s Vaults isn’t a pub I’ve warmed to since its refurb – perhaps it’s just me, perhaps it’s just the circumstances in which I usually see it, but it has that indefinable “not entirely welcoming to solitary middle-aged men well on their way to getting thoroughly drunk” air about it. At least since the last time I was there they’ve put in some chairs at floor level, if you see what I mean. Anyway, I was mildly tempted by the 6.5% ‘special reserve’ version of Titanic Plum Porter, but they had Old Tom on – there was no real competition. (It cost about half as much again as it did in the Swan, incidentally.)

I said earlier on that Reasons to be Cheerful is currently my favourite bar; I think it’s because it gets the basics right and doesn’t really bother about anything else. R2BC doesn’t look “craft”, or look anything in particular; it’s a reasonably nice-looking space, with reasonably comfortable seating, and the range and quality of the beer is consistently excellent. Remedy, on the other hand, is quite a lot about the look of the thing; I’ve never actually been to an Edison lightbulb showroom, but I think it would look a great deal like that. I plonked myself down on a railway sleeper and had one of their own beers – Missing Slippers, a 5.5% “marshmallow stout” – which was fine.

And that – apart from an obligatory scoop at the Petersgate Tap (a third of Ashover Moscow, a 9.5% imperial stout) – was it for Stockport. Sadly, with only ten stickers I was obliged to… what’s that, Sooty? I could get the last two tomorrow? I could have gone out today? Yes, well. Even more sadly, the location of those ten stickers is currently not known to me; somewhere between Remedy and Chorlton, the sheet they’re attached to went missing. So I’m back down to zero, with far too little time to get to 12. So long, WWW 2019.

I am going to spin part of it out for a bit longer, though. When planning my 6- to 8-pub route, I did feel a pang for all the further-flung pubs I would normally have tried to fit in – Poynton! Romiley! Stalybridge! So I’m going to hang on to the list and make a personal challenge of it: I’ll tick off all 45 of them, at least once, before WWW 2020 comes round. Watch this space…

Not a fan

I realised the other day that I’m not a fan.

I don’t mean that in the usual sense, as an elaborate way to say you don’t much like something – although I’m sure I could reel off as many dislikes and prejudices as the next blogger. I’m not a fan of beer you can’t see through, for example, and I still haven’t managed to get into sours; in my experience Wild‘s beers need to be approached with caution, and Omnipollo‘s are rarely worth the trouble (and expense) of approaching at all.

But that’s by the way. The point is, when it comes to beer I’m not a fan – of anyone or anything (any brewery, any style, any beer).

(OK, I’m already thinking of exceptions. But let’s pursue this melancholy line of thought a bit further.)

What’s happened? How did the decades-long journey of discovery – starting out with one big, explosive discovery (beer!!!) and continuing through the smaller explosions of other discoveries (old ale! abbey beers! Weizen! Dunkelweizen! porter! imperial stout! really really really pale hoppy beers!) – how did it wash up in my current state of vague yeah it’s all right I suppose not-a-fandom?

The short answer is that things change. The long answer is the same, but in four parts.

1. Breweries Close

Yes, I’m going to mention TicketyBrew again. I was a huge fan of Duncan Barton’s beers; I’ve still got a few in the garage, but when they’re gone I’m really going to miss them. If I knew a bar nearby had one of their beers on I’d always check it out, even if it meant making a special trip later – and I was very rarely disappointed when I did. I only really discovered how big a fan I’d been after the brewery closed, when I realised that I’d stopped peering in at the windows of local bars as I passed. If I already knew I wasn’t going to see one of TicketyBrew’s instantly identifiable zigzag pump clips… well, what was the point? There are a few other breweries in the “always check out” category – Batham’s, Holden’s, Harvey’s, Dark Star – but three of those are very rarely available around here, and as for the fourth…

2. Breweries Change

For a long time I felt like I ought to be a fan of Marble, what with the eponymous Beerhouse basically being my local, and for a long time I didn’t really get their beers. I don’t think it was entirely me, either; some of them were a bit rough round the edges, particularly in the period when they were using that one hop that smells like vomit. (That’s not just me, is it?) Anyway, breweries change – sometimes for the better – and, while James Kemp was head brewer, Marble produced two superb pale ales, the beast that was Built to Fall and the crystalline perfection of Damage Plan. Kemp, with Joe Ince, followed up with the Gothic Series, a range of barrel-aged old ales and imperial stouts, which were equally brilliant. I bought one of everything and started making notes towards what would have been a big (and favourable) review of Marble Beers In General. Then things changed; James Kemp moved on (to Yeastie Boys); the bottles started going out of stock and the beers weren’t re-brewed. There have been a few new barrel-aged beers from Marble, but Ince’s interests seem to lie more in pales and sours. (So, am I a fan of Marble? No. Yes. Which Marble?)

3. Fashions Change

When I first got into beer there was a simple rule of thumb; beer in general was brown, malty and traditional, quite easy to find but not very strong; good beer was very brown, very malty, very traditional, quite hard to find and very strong (a phrase which here means ‘over 4.9%’). I had Young’s Winter Warmer at a beer festival once and for a moment had to restrain myself from shouting Yes! That’s it! (“Est, est, est!” “Tell them I am drinking stars, although by ‘stars’ I mean ‘memories of under-age drinking in South London’!”)

Anyway, one taste I’ve preserved from that period is a taste for old ales and barley wines. But can you get them? I realise that 8%ers on cask are a tall order, but you’d think that the ‘craft keg’ scene – with its tolerance for high strength and high price, and its endemic competition for stylistic niches – would have been ideal territory for a revival of these types of beer. (And you can always bottle them – see above.) Strong pales we get; strong stouts, we get; strong sweet stouts, even. Old ales and barley wines, dubbels, tripels, doppelbocks – not so much. It must just be fashion. I guess barley wines will come back round again – everything comes back round again eventually; I just hope it doesn’t take too long.

4. Tastes Change

This last point, though, is the real shocker. I cut my teeth on the brown, malty beers characteristic of the London area and South Wales – and Sussex, and rural Yorkshire, and the South-West, and the North-East, and East Anglia, and Scotland… – and for a long time I was a staunch partisan of those styles, despite them not being the thing around here (or in south Lancs and west Yorks generally).

After several years of more or less forced exposure to them, eight years ago I made the happy discovery that pale’n’oppy beers are actually quite nice. But I retained my appreciation of the good old brown-and-malty, if done properly – as in, Adnams’ Broadside or Fuller’s ESB rather than Sheps’ Spitfire – and would always make a beeline for beers from those few contemporary breweries that were still turning them out. They were often Welsh; Conwy was a favourite for a while, and I was over the moon when I realised that Evan Evans was a direct continuation of Buckley’s, whose bitter was the one of the first I ever loved.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I had a half of Evan Evans’ uncompromisingly-titled Cwrw in a Spoons’ in Urmston (of all places), and it was… fine. Well, barely that. I mean, the beer itself was absolutely fine – good example of the style, well kept and in good nick, I could tell that it was doing what it was supposed to do. It was just… a bit on the sweet side, if I’m honest; a bit too big and mouth-filling for my liking. Results from a subsequent tasting of Fuller’s ESB were similarly disappointing. It’s a good beer, it’s just… it’s not really my thing, any more.

But if I haven’t got a brewery to be a fan of, and I haven’t got a style to be a fan of – except breweries and styles that you basically can’t get – what does that leave?

5. Found in the Supermarket

A bottle of Landlord, the other week, absolutely knocked my socks off – it was every bit as good as it is on cask, when it’s been cellared properly and allowed to dry out a bit. A can (it’s what all the cool kids are drinking these days) of Rooster’s Yankee was terrific; I was genuinely surprised at how fruity and how bitter it was. The whole thing was so well done, it really seemed to make sense of the pale’n’oppy style (which can be as ho-hum as any other). A bottle of Proper Job delivered something similar but in heavier boots; that’s a big pale hoppy beer.

So there’s that; the classics are still classics, at least some of them. And, going back to the first couple of points, it’s worth noting that these are all quite long-established beers from independent breweries that are still trading (and still independent). Maybe that’s something I am a fan of: independent breweries (so that the brewer is close enough to the top of the organisation to guarantee quality) making styles they’ve been brewing for a few years (so that they’ve had time to get them right). Same thing I’ve been a fan of since the 1970s, really.

Roll up! Roll up!

All the fun of the festival! Yes, it’s another beer festival – Chorlton this time.

I’ve been to Chorlton Beer Festival, held every year in the outbuildings and grounds of St Clement’s Church, most years since it started in 2005; I’ve still got fond memories of the BrewDog Zeitgeist black lager I had there once (and that’ll be at least ten years ago now). So the lineup of attractions this year wasn’t entirely unfamiliar. In rough order of appearance, there was:

The Hip One (On Cask!)
Always nice to see a cask beer from a fashionable brewery who you don’t always see cask beers from, if that’s grammar. Cloudwater Mr Green’s Bouffant is a strongish pale ale, and it was pretty nice. (It’s no Zeitgeist, but what is?)

The One With The Flavourings
I couldn’t say no to RedWillow‘s pink peppercorn saison (a Faithless), particularly when there was a gap in the bar between me and it. I realised afterwards I’d been at the keg bar – and I do hold to the general position that any given beer is almost always better on cask – but they didn’t have this one on cask, so never mind. Anyway, the carbonation and chill didn’t seem to do it any harm (and it was a warm night).

The Crush At The Bar
Or, as it turned out, not. I wimped out of volunteering this year, as indeed I have ever since my rather strenuous – and very dry – experience at the festival in 2015. But the bars seemed to be much better arranged this year; I don’t think I ever noticed a bar that was two deep along its full length, let alone three. Maybe next year. (If they’ll have me – if they’ll let me back in, come to that. But more on that later.)

The Other One With The Flavourings
I was a bit disappointed by Stockport‘s Raspberry Porter, having really liked the brewery (and indeed their porter) before now. You know how in Sam Smith’s raspberry beer you can actually taste raspberries, it’s not just a syrup flavour? Not like that, sadly. (But Stockporter’s still ace.)

The Seating Situation (featuring Staring At Strangers)
I believe there were enough chairs, and to spare. It’s just that it’s not always easy to get at the one empty chair halfway down a long table (backing onto another long table); and it’s not easy (in another sense) to sit yourself down, as a lone punter, in one of the two empty chairs in between two groups of six, which was generally what was left by mid-evening. (Were they even empty? Were they keeping them for their friends?) So I spent a fair amount of time leaning against the church or perched on various bits of wall that shelved outwards, sometimes directing hard stares at people who seemed to be particularly profligate in their use of seating. (The three people chatting, standing up, in the middle of a cluster of eight empty chairs – I saw you.)

The Murky One
Track Helios – a Stockport Beer Festival home-brew competition winner – was everything you’d expect from a New England IPA: it was fruity, it was creamy, it was zingy, it was… completely opaque, and frankly rather unattractive to look at. So I drank it without looking at it. But it is a great-tasting beer.

The Food Situation
Having eaten before I came out, I wasn’t in the market for a full meal, but after a few beers you always fancy something… But what? I’d scouted out a couple of food stalls where everything seemed to be large-ish and priced around the £8 mark, and was musing grumpily on how this was Not what I wanted At All, when I caught sight of the answer to my prayers: a stall selling pork pies. Lots of pork pies. All different. A couple of different vegetarian options even. I bought one – £3, for a proper handful – and was well pleased. Festivals everywhere please copy.

The Cold Fizzy One
So there was this keg bar, and some of them were only on keg, and it was a warm night, and… What can I say, Beatnikz Republic/Atom Blanc Atomium (white IPA) is a really nice beer.

The Advancing Inebriation (also featuring Staring At Strangers)
No thirds at Chorlton, and some of these beers were rather strong (although I regretfully decided to swerve the Cloudwater Human Meanings at 8.5%). Rather sooner than anticipated I found myself sitting with my back to the church, gazing vaguely ahead of me and thinking rather slowly. I remember noticing a very tall woman who looked a bit like Thom Yorke, and wondering if she found that difficult. On getting up to go for another drink, I realised I’d been looking at a fairly tall man who looked a bit like Thom Yorke.

The One You Don’t Remember Afterwards
A classic sign of actually getting drunk at a beer festival is that, even though you’ve made a list, when you look at it later you’ve got no idea what the last beer on the list was like. (Or sometimes the last two or even three beers.) Blackedge Porter falls into that category this time. I do remember the guy serving me recommending a different porter, which – unlike this one – was on cask; I didn’t go for it, though, possibly because it was the Stockport and definitely because he’d already started pouring this one. I’m pretty sure this one wasn’t bad, anyway – I’d have remembered that.

Then there was a feature you don’t get at most festivals:

The Argument With A Clergyman
Chorlton BF runs on tokens, sold in sheets of £10 a go; this is on top of an entry fee, which also gets you a programme and a (non-returnable) glass. Partly-used sheets of tokens can be refunded on the way out. Some years ago, the organisers caused a bit of a row – literally on the night(s) and figuratively afterwards – by implementing a policy of not refunding partial sheets and holding on to the difference, for the benefit of the church. This is not something CAMRA approves (and the festival is sponsored by CAMRA), so they’d promptly stopped doing it. However, subsequent festivals have featured signs at the refund desk, asking visitors to consider not getting a refund and donating the value of their unused tokens to the church. Now, I don’t have many issues with the Church of England in general – and I dare say St Clement’s in particular could make good use of my money – but I have got a bit of a thing about making conscious choices: when I donate money, it’s because I’m choosing to donate money. Rattle a tin and I’ll often choose to put money in it; sell me a programme and I’ll usually choose to buy it; just don’t borrow money from me and then say, hey, here’s a thing, how about we keep it? This kind of ‘nudge’ technique, extracting the cash by replacing a deliberate donation with an unthinking default, is something that annoys me intensely whenever I see it (and I’ve seen it in lots of places beside St Clement’s, of course).

I’d seen the sign as I came through the churchyard on the way in, I knew where I stood, and by the time I was leaving I’d had plenty of time to think about it all. Asking at the tokens stall, I was redirected to the refunds stall, which was staffed – probably not coincidentally – by a man in a clerical collar. When he asked if I’d consider donating the money that was left on my card, I declined, giving him a polite but firm prepared statement: No issues with the church… like what you’re doing here… when I donate… choose to donate… so yes, thanks all the same, but I would like my money back. He wasn’t best pleased, and reacted as if I was the first person to be so awkward all evening (and, to be fair, I probably was the first person to make a speech about it). But he turned to his cashbox, and I prepared to take my £4.40 and leave with a good grace, feeling slightly ungenerous but satisfied that I’d made my point.

Then he took £4 out of the cashbox and explained that he was only giving me back the whole pounds. I did not have a line prepared for this – and I was, as I may have mentioned, quite drunk at this point. I don’t think I swore, but I certainly expressed some surprise and disappointment. His response, rather to my surprise, was not to try and mollify the ranting drunkard who’d just appeared in front of him, but to explain that this was in fact the festival’s policy, and even to indicate the small print on the sheet of tokens which had (apparently) notified me of this. (The chance of my reading any of the said small print was non-existent – I’d already handed the sheet over by this time, and in any case it was 10.00 at night.) Outmanoeuvred and out-documented, I turned to go – but then remembered CAMRA’s previously-expressed policy on the non-refund thing, and turned back to advise my new friend that he was in breach of this policy. He got quite flustered (I suspect I was getting rather loud by now, which I do regret) and offered me 50p, “if it matters so much to you”. But the money, of course, didn’t matter to me – and I certainly wasn’t going to take any money off him that wasn’t mine – so I left it and walked away, highly disgruntled.

It’s a shame; it was a bad note to end the evening on. (To clarify, I wasn’t involved in the planning, so I don’t know if the ‘whole pounds’ thing is covered by the festival’s arrangement with CAMRA or not. It doesn’t strike me as particularly good practice, though.)

Conclusion: The Negatives
As I’ve said, there were no delays getting served and no trouble finding affordable food. There was live music, but it was kept to a level where it was no nuisance to anyone who wasn’t in the mood; there were no queues for the loo, either, although as a man I was well provided-for. (None of the portaloos dotted about seemed to be designated for women only, while men had the added benefit of a block of urinals. This may be one for the organisers to keep an eye on.) More importantly, none of the beers I liked the look of had run out (and I was there on the second night); none of the beers I had was in poor condition; and I did not regret having any of them. Overall, it was not a bad little festival, and I would not rule out going again this time next year – as long as I’m not barred.

Mild by Northwest 4

Final scores

About 2/3 of the pubs I went to had a mild on (although in a couple of cases this took multiple visits). 32 out of 48 is lower than in previous years, but there does seem to have been a bit of a timing clash, and perhaps some miscommunication, on the Spoons front. Also, I have been a bit more selective in some areas – I visited fewer Hyde’s pubs than usual and only two Holt’s.

Dark mild: some good stuff from Brightside, Dunham, Moorhouse, Poynton, Salopian, Stockport, Tweed and a couple of less familiar breweries, as well as old friends from Hyde’s and Holt’s; Moorhouse and Tweed were probably the best of the bunch. Not so many actually labelled as ‘mild’, though.

Light mild: just the one, from Hyde’s – and the pump clip calls it a ‘session ale’. (Which, for once, is probably an improvement on calling it a bitter.) If mild’s endangered, light mild should be on a watchlist.

State Of Pub-Going: generally seemed fine, to be honest; there were a few tumbleweed venues, but much fewer than on my last round of MM outings, particularly at weekends. Perhaps it was just something about 2018.

Pubs where I was sorry not to be stopping for more than a half: Briton’s, Four Kings, Jake’s

Pubs where a half was plenty: Cocked Hat, Oxnoble

Old favourites: Petersgate Tap, Stockport Arch 14

New favourite: Reasons to be Cheerful, Tweed Equinox

Rediscovered old favourites: Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar, Moorhouse’s Black Cat

The pay-off

All this boozing earned me – what else – beer tokens, for use at the Stockport Beer and Cider Festival; enough for six halves, in fact. Since they weren’t restricted to the purchase of mild, I decided to spend them each on a different style of beer – subject to a strength limit of 5%, which ruled out going for a swift half of a 12% barrel-aged imperial stout. In the end I had:

Boudicca Spiral (stout)
Five Points Railway Porter (really good)
Stockport/Bar Nouveau Mild Mannered Victorian (mild; it was good, but how did they miss the obvious name?)
Twisted WTF (bitter; supposedly a biscuity old-school bitter with masses of hops, but I wasn’t sure about the hops)
Thirst Class You can call me Hal (pale)
Moorhouse M/44 (saison; really nice)

After that, I spent my own money on some >5% beers (in thirds):

Marble Different Dobber (nice, but I’d need to taste them side by side to verify the ‘different’ part)
Lacon’s Audit Ale (recommended by Dave Pennington, to whom many thanks; a terrific old-school barley wine)
Serious Gold Rush (a golden ale with Belgian yeast)
Cloudwater Henry’s Last Call (a cask pale from Cloudwater, got to be worth a bash – and it was)

The Lacon’s was my beer of the festival, although – slightly to my surprise – that Moorhouse saison wasn’t far behind. Great festival, great beers.

Many thanks to everyone who gave up their time to organise both the Mild Magic trail and the Festival; your work is really appreciated, at least by this punter.

Mild by Northwest 3 – Way Out East

Mild Magic 2019: the Eastern leg

The ups…

I’d been to Marple before, albeit only in search of beer and quite briefly at that; train in, head for the Samuel Oldknow, bus out. I saw a bit more of it this time, for two reasons. One was that Marple as a destination had been joined on the Mild Magic map by Marple Bridge, itself divided into ‘North’ and ‘South’ areas. The other was that I got the wrong train. The map on my phone suggested to me that Rose Hill Marple was only a little way out of town; I was impatient to get going, so I caught that train rather than hang around for the Marple (proper) service a quarter of an hour later.

This turned out to be a bad idea. I’m not one of life’s ramblers, but if there’s a hill to be climbed I’ll climb it without complaint. A long and gentle uphill slope, though – particularly one that continues uninterrupted for the best part of a mile – is not my idea of fun. This, though, is what lies between Rose Hill and the centre of Marple. At least it gave me plenty of opportunities to look at Marple. I concluded that Marple – like so many other places – is coming up in the world, not least because – like so many other places – it now supports at least three different craft beer outlets (including one that also specialises in craft gin). The longest-established is the Samuel Oldknow, an unassuming shop-front bar with hidden depths; I had Stockport Arch 14 mild, which was rather good (although admittedly I was thirsty by this stage).

Next, I headed for Marple Bridge, which to my surprise turned out to be at the bottom of a very steep hill, with Marple Station halfway down. (I guess bridges go over rivers, and they tend to be in valleys… Perhaps I’ve been a townie too long.) The mild on offer at the Norfolk Arms – a big old-style pub at the foot of the hill was 4 Ts Old School; the main thing I remember about it is that, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with stickers, I took it and sat down without paying. I reckon I could have got away with it, too, if I’d thrown it back and legged it, but honesty got the better of me.

Further out of Marple Bridge – strung out on the northbound road out of town, in fact – were the Spring Gardens and Northumberland Arms, two more big ‘roadhouse’-type pubs. The Spring Gardens didn’t have a mild on, but I hadn’t seen Abbeydale Deception in yonks, so it was nice to reacquaint myself. The Northumberland Arms had Dunham Dark, a very decent mild & one of those local milds I’d expected to see more of in the free trade. From there I got the bus to Romiley, where the proprietor of Jake’s Ale House (Jake?) proudly exhibited his all-but-empty sticker sheet – “75 new customers!”. Quite how often I’ll be making the trip to Romiley between now and the next CAMRA crawl, I don’t know, but in principle that is very much the idea. (It’s a nice little bar, and the Poynton Dark Side was really good.)

According to my notes it was 40 minutes from Jake’s to my next stop, the Railway in Portwood (covered in the first of these posts); as I remember most of that was spent on a minuscule bus bobbling around through the estates of Romiley and Harrytown. (Yes, Harrytown. Whether there’s any reliable way to distinguish people who come from Harrytown in terms of their accoutrements, I don’t know.) From there it was on to the Petersgate Tap and home (NB two distinct places).

…and downs

Glossop – which is also very easy to reach by train from Manchester, public transport fans – is another place that’s coming up in the world, at least if its craft beer bar quota is anything to go by. After a mildly disappointing start at the local Spoons, I’m afraid I incommoded the proprietor of Bar 2 slightly by walking into the bar at 12.15, at which point he was (as he explained) not only still setting up but still waking up after a very late night and a short night’s sleep. (Sometimes I think how nice it would be to run a little bar, and then I think again.) But there was mild (Stockport Arch 14) and it was in good nick. Bar 2, incidentally, was Tweed 2 until a disagreement with the Tweed brewery over rates and availability; there were no Tweed beers at all on the bar when I went. Finally – for Glossop – Four Kings Cask and Kitchen didn’t have any mild on, but I could forgive them that for the quality of the Four Kings Porter. The food menu looked extraordinary, too, but nothing quite leapt out at me, so I moved on.

You know how places like Marple and Glossop are coming up in the world, proliferation of craft beer bars etc? (It’s not just the old country towns, either – look at Urmston. Even Stretford is loaded with ‘craft’ joints these days – Stretford!) OK, so: Hyde. The centre of Hyde is busy, you’ve got to give it that, and I didn’t notice many vacant sites – but you’d be looking at it for a long time before the phrase “up in the world” occurred to you. (Having a honking great motorway running – at best – right alongside the town can’t help matters.)

Where beer’s concerned Hyde sometimes means the Queens; not this time, though, I reckoned I’d had my quota of Joey’s pubs. But it always means the Tweed Tap, the Sportsman and the Cheshire Ring. The Tweed Tap somehow looks like a craft beer bar which has no intention of bringing the surrounding area up in the world; I’m not saying it’s rough, just a bit… spartan, inside as well as out. Tweed Equinox is badged up as an “English brown ale”; I suppose you could find some echoes of Newcastle’s finest in there if you thought about it, but it was basically a pleasantly complex light-ish dark mild. As for the Sportsman, there is, in all honesty, very little to say that I haven’t said before. Here’s what I said when I visited four years ago, with a bonus callback to two years before that:

The last time I was in there – for 2013’s MM – the place was deserted. Not only was there only one other drinker in there, there was nobody behind the bar … in fact there was nobody in the place at all, apart from some people in the back kitchen preparing food and chatting in Spanish. (I got someone to serve me eventually, but it was a struggle.) It’s an oddity, the Sportsman, as it doubles as the Rossendale brewery tap and a Latin American restaurant.

It’s still a Rossendale brewery tap and a Latin American restaurant – with little or no signage outside indicating either of these things – and it’s still a bit challenging to get served; if you’ve ordered food, in particular, it’s handy to memorise phrases like “relaxed, unhurried service” and repeat them to yourself occasionally. (It’s good food, to be fair.) A vast array of Rossendale beers were on the bar – seriously, there must have been seven or eight of them – but none of them was a mild as far as I could tell.

As for the Cheshire Ring, I always vaguely think of it as a bikers’ pub; I’m sure it isn’t, but it’s got that combination of cheap – but good – beer and macho bonhomie that I remember from my few forays into bikers’ pubs, Back in the Day. (People didn’t even say ‘back in the day’ in those days, I’m talking properly way back…) Further investigation establishes that there is in fact a biker’s pub in Hyde, the uncompromisingly named Bike’n’Hound; perhaps I’ll investigate another time. Or perhaps not; either way, something tells me that my mental image of the b.’s p. (involving draught cider, pork scratchings and singles by Hawkwind on the jukebox) may not be entirely up to date.

Back at the Cheshire Ring, there was nothing dark on the bar except Beartown Crème Bearlee (which is a stout); not being the world’s biggest Beartown fan, I swerved this in favour of something light (Shardlow Narrow Boat, my notes say, but I couldn’t tell you more than that). When I asked for a sticker the barman gestured at the Beartown stout – You should have had that one! I demurred politely, pointing out that it wasn’t a mild. You’re all right, he replied. Trouble is, when we do have Quantock on, it goes in a flash! As an argument against stocking Beartown’s dark mild, I thought this lacked something.

Exactly what happened after the Cheshire Ring I’m not able to tell you (although my notes tell me that I was back in Stockport an hour later). Similar issues relating to alcohol and memory make me unable to say very much about another trip, which finished at the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar; there are pubs where I find it all but physically impossible to stop for just the one, and the Buffet Bar is definitely one of them.

Earlier that day, though, I definitely made a stop at Silly Country in Droylsden. There’s a distinct set of bars where I never do stop for more than one but invariably think I’d like to – Jake’s is one, and the Four Kings bar is heading that way; and Silly Country is on that list. On this occasion, though, one beer was plenty: they had an act on. There had been an act on at Platform 5 – or “the Holt’s pub with the flirty barman” as it is to me now – but that place is so big, they could set up a bowling alley if they moved a few tables; even with amplification, a full band off in the middle distance was no impediment to a quiet half. Not so Silly Country, which looks big-ish when it’s empty but looks – and sounds – decidedly bijou when it’s occupied by a dozen punters and a young man with an electric guitar. I say ‘young man’ – he can’t have been older than twelve. He was doing a decent job, accompanying himself through a series of hits – now the Beatles, now George Ezra – and he seemed to be collecting for a good cause. I didn’t feel like lingering, though. There no mild on offer, that day at least – I had a half of Stubborn Mule The Mandarin Candidate, an experimental-sounding IPA (Mandarina Bavaria hops plus actual mandarins). It worked, just about; awful name, though.

Next: final thoughts

Mild by Northwest 2 – Times Change

More on Mild Magic 2019

Times change
Ways change
Times change, people change
– Julian Cope

Didsbury and beyond
I haven’t been in many Hyde’s or Holt’s pubs for this year’s Mild Magic. But Hyde’s, in particular, is hard to avoid if you’re doing the Withington corridor, and one or other of 1863 and Old Indie was on offer at the Friendship, the Victoria, the Horse and Farrier (Gatley) and the Crown (Cheadle). The Vic was a bit dead when I called in, but the other three were all pleasantly busy – not something that’s always been true of the Friendship, in particular. (There have been fewer empty pubs across the board as compared to last year; it may not mean anything, but it does seem like a good sign.) I think 1863 is the only light mild I had this time round, if indeed it still is a light mild.

East Didsbury was more varied, in all senses of the word. I’ve never yet had a mild in Wine and Wallop (despite the name) and this year was no exception – although I gather that they did have a mild on for at least some of the Mild Magic period. My first visit to the Head of Steam also drew a blank, but when I returned a couple of weeks later they had Timothy Taylor’s Dark Mild on. The last time I’d seen that beer it was on the bar at the George in Stockport, side by side with Golden Best and both going for £2 a pint – happy days. It wasn’t £2 a pint at the HoS – in fact it was very nearly £2 a half – and I guess trade hadn’t been brisk, as it was rather tired. Still, better that than the reliably awful Coach House Gunpowder Mild which was on at the Olde Cock. Up the road in Burnage, Reasons to be Cheerful had Salopian Divine Comedy, an excellent contemporary take on the dark mild style, along with much else; it’s one of those bars that I try to fit in last when I’m doing a crawl, because I know I won’t want to stick to the one half. I have to confess, the places in this category used to be old-style real ale ‘exhibition’ pubs – the Crown in Stockport, the Railway in Portwood, the New Oxford – but these days they’re more likely to be places with interesting keg as well as cask ranges: Reasons, Petersgate Tap, Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. Times change, people change.

Urmston
I like Urmston, but next to Chorlton – next to Stockport, for that matter – it’s… odd. It has the unevenly-developed, up-and-coming quality of bits of the Northern Quarter (ever-shrinking bits), or of Beech Road in Chorlton about five years ago, but with the difference that in both those two cases a bohemian/foodie/’craft’ scene took root in the midst of urban decline. Urmston’s not quite like that, in that the ‘old’ – pre-hipster – Urmston is still right there and doing absolutely fine. Put it this way, there can’t be many other places in Manchester where you can walk out of a craft beer bar and come face to face with a poster advertising a 70s dinner-dance hosted by TV’s Stan Boardman.

I was there for the beer, starting with Holt’s dark mild at the Lord Nelson; I even went for a pint, on the basis that

  1. it had been off at Platform 5 in Cheadle Hulme, so I hadn’t had Holt’s mild yet
  2. it’s only 3.2%, and
  3. it seemed like the kind of pub where one orders pints

Nice pub, like a lot of Holt’s suburban pubs (the Griffin, the Park Inn) in being a massive, multi-roomed beer palace; hard to fill, but it was early in the evening when I was there and I got the sense it would get busier later. Perhaps it was just having a pint of mild in my hand, but it felt very much like proper old-school pubbing.

My other scheduled stop was the Tim Bobbin (JDW) for Lymestone Stonefish dark mild – and not Stella, as my order was initially misheard. (This seems to happen to me a lot in Urmston. I guess my accent still sounds a bit ‘southern’ – I’ve only been here since 1987, after all.) I also had a half of Evan Evans Cwrw; Evan Evans is the successor brewery to Buckley’s, whose bitter provided me with an unforgettable teenage beer epiphany. This time round… well, times change.

But I finished off at the Schooner, which wasn’t doing Mild Magic but would have been a sure-fire last-bar-on-the-route if it had been. The porter I started with was excellent; the arancini that were being prepared – one night only – on a stall outside made a great meal (and I’d been wanting to try arancini); and the second beer I had was the best of the night: it was dark, it was 7%, and it was an India Dark Ale. That’s right, it’s like an IPA only dark and stouty… It took me right back to when that piney/roasty combination was new – and “Cascadian Dark Ale” was being bandied about as an alternative title – and reminded me of what’s good about black IPAs, when they’re done well. It’s only a shame I can’t remember the brewer.

The Schooner also does off sales, and they had some beers reduced that night – including some that were up against the sell-by date and were reduced to £1. A recent Belgian beer tasting had introduced me to De Dochter van de Korenaar, so I was pleased to be able to pick up a bottle of their Beau Monde saison (brewed with bitter oranges and dry hopped). This is a daft recipe on paper, and it was an unprepossessing beer when I got round to opening it – it gushed enthusiastically and took about five minutes to transfer into a glass; how long it would have taken to settle I don’t know, as I wanted to drink it that evening. Still, sludge-brown and murky though it was, it was a terrific beer; the dry hopping and the oranges worked to blunt the rough edges of the saison style, and it all added up to a properly grown-up fruit beer.

Urmston took me back: back to the glory days of the late noughties when black IPAs were new, back to drinking malty Welsh bitter in my teens, back to the kind of pub that my Dad would have known his way around… (Not to mention taking me back to when I was new in Manchester and I was still getting accent-checked.) But the Schooner, at least, has one foot firmly in 2019. No mild, but nobody’s perfect.

Next: way out East.