Category Archives: W W W 2012

Winter Wonders 5

WWW 2012 part 5: Stockport.

I’d been looking forward to this. Stockport boasts one terrific multi-ale free house (the Railway in Portwood), one even better than that (the Crown) and numerous Robinson’s houses, several of which were on the Winter Warmer Wander; what could possibly go wrong?

Well, one or two things. The beer running out, for one. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Arriving in the centre of Stockport, my plan was to head for the Railway and then work my way back to the Crown. The plan lasted until I passed the Swan with Two Necks, where I’ve had a very nice half of Old Tom before now. I went in. Old Tom was off. I came out again.

I still fancied the idea of hitting the Railway with an Old Tom already under my belt, so I went in the Tiviot. They were serving Old Tom from a freezer-jacketed pin on the bar. I’m in two minds about this arrangement; the half I got was close to room temperature and had lost most of its condition. On the other hand, it tasted really good. I think I’d still prefer it at cellar temperature and with a bit of condition, but it did work the way I had it – it seemed to bring different aspects of the flavour to the fore.

There should be a standard classification for pies, I feel. The main dividing line would be very simple: on one side there would be pies which can be held in the hand and eaten while standing up; on the other, pies which call for seating and the use of a fork, and which are liable to disintegrate messily if approached without due care. Every pie on sale for immediate consumption would be clearly marked as a “hand pie” or a “fork pie”. Customers purchasing a “fork pie” would naturally be offered a disposable fork to go with their pie, together with a paper napkin and perhaps a wet-wipe or two. I feel this would greatly enhance the customer experience offered by such businesses as Greenhalgh’s. No reason, it just crossed my mind.

By this time I fancied another Old Tom, never mind my original plan, so I went in the Arden Arms. There was a pin on the bar, from which the landlord managed with some effort to extract about a fifth of a pint – for which he very sportingly didn’t charge me. Unfortunately – if unsurprisingly – it was on the turn, so I left it after a couple of swigs.

What would the Railway be serving? I mused as I headed over there. (An old ale would be nice. An old ale other than Old Tom, especially. A barley wine would be really nice) What they were serving was about six different bitters in the 4% region, plus one strong one (Jaipur) and Rossendale Pitch Porter. So I had that (and a half of Jaipur). The Pitch Porter was every bit as good as it had been at the Mark Addy, and much more reasonably priced at £2.30 a pint – or, to look at it another way, three pints for the price of two.

I stuck my nose in Calverts Court but didn’t see anything qualifying except for Brewster’s Belly Dancer, which qualified on strength alone and didn’t appeal. (Besides, I had my 25 stickers now.)

Then ho for the Crown. I’d been spoilt for choice on previous visits and was looking forward to this one. I was greeted by the familiar and welcome sight of a forest of handpumps – how many beers is that, 12? 14? What came to light when I examined the pump clips, however, was a huge array of 4%-ish bitters with just a couple of dark ones, and nothing like an old ale. I tried Wilson & Potter’s Pudding Porter and wasn’t wildly impressed – it’s one of those “cake spice” beers made with actual cake spices, which I always think is missing the point a bit. Then Millstone Stout: a light, thin-tasting, easy-drinking stout. Which was OK. There were a few other things that I hadn’t tried, but nothing I particularly fancied, so I left it at that.

26 beers in 26 pubs, and they were:

This area Total
Old ale / Barley wine 1 4
Porter / stout 2 9
Vaguely Christmassy beer 0 4
A.N. Other Beer at 4.5% or over 0 9

I may just have been unlucky, but the numbers in those last two rows look rather high to me – and the number in the top row looks very low, particularly when you take into account that three of the four were Old Tom. I’m a huge fan of old ales and winter warmers, and I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed. I wonder how many other people went out in the hope of finding an old ale and wound up settling for something like Last Drop. I understand that numbers are limited, but then why exclude pubs that do serve dark beers (Electrik, De Nada, the Odds) and include pubs that don’t (Royal Oak, 57 Thomas St, the Hyde’s estate)? If the idea was to encourage pubs like these to stock ‘winter warmers’, it doesn’t seem to have worked.

Perhaps it’s a work in progress; our influence will be cumulative, and the next Wander will see 6%ers sprouting from bars across the city. We can hope. In the mean time, I’m looking forward to the NWAF – at which I intend to drink nothing pale, hoppy or below 5%. Mmm, winter ale.

Winter wonders 4

A quick update on WWW 2012.

Part 4: Salford

Only two pubs on the list in Salford, but they both delivered the goods.

I hadn’t been in the Mark Addy for quite a while. It’s had a relatively recent change of management, with an emphasis on food, and I’d heard awful rumours about £10 fish and chips and £5 scotch eggs. But I was there for the beer, and the choice on that front was excellent. I had a half of Rossendale Pitch Porter, which never disappoints – a big dark beast of a beer. A bit pricey at £3.50 a pint, but not insanely so. Then I noticed a Red Willow pump, offering a house beer – Fearless, or “Mark Addy is Fearless” to give it its full name (google ‘Mark Addy’ if you don’t get the reference). So I had a half of that, too, and it was superb – a pale, dry, smoky hop-fest, beautifully clean-tasting and with just a touch of sharpness before the bitter finish. The results are in and it’s official: there is nothing this brewery can’t do. All hail Toby McKenzie! Please give me free beer! (Sorry, didn’t mean to say that last bit out loud.)

What is there to say about the temple of beer that is the Oxford? What there is to say on this occasion is “what a very fine array of strong, sweet, full-bodied beers appropriate to this cold season you have, and what a shame they’re all in glass bottles”. The Oxford’s amazing range of Dutch and Belgian bottles was complemented by a range of draught beers that was as broad as you like, but not very heavy on the winter ales – with a couple of exceptions there didn’t seem to be anything dark or over 5%. I’m not really complaining, though, as one of the exceptions was Sarah Hughes’ Ruby Mild, a really outstanding beer which I’ve never seen on handpull before. It’s lovely stuff (and I suspect in a blind tasting it’d be quite hard to distinguish from a dark old ale).

So where does that leave us?

This area Total
Old ale / Barley wine 0 3
Porter / stout 1 7
Vaguely Christmassy beer 0 4
A.N. Other Beer at 4.5% or over 1 9

Next up: Stockport.

Winter wonders 3

WWW 2012, part 3: Didsbury

Well, I say Didsbury. Rusholme, Fallowfield, Withington, Didsbury and Parrs Wood, to be more precise. It’s a crawl down the 42 bus route, basically.

I started in Rusholme at the Ford Madox Brown; a Spoons, and – like all the other Spoons in my recent experience – rather lacking in dark beer. I had a Greene King Abbot Reserve, which was a lot better than it might have been.

On the bus to Fallowfield and the Sir Joseph Whitworth, a Hyde’s pub serving nothing on handpull except cider: a veritable Pub With No Beer. (I went back another time and had a half of Last Drop, of which more anon.)

Just down the road is the Friendship, which (on this particular Saturday afternoon) was absolutely, totally, incontrovertibly rammed. It seems to get busier every time I go in there; this time it was standing room only, and not much of that. And it’s a huge pub, too. Hyde’s are definitely doing something right with this one. I had a half of Winter Cheer, which I’d class as a seasonal bitter more than an old ale. (And as such not really a qualifying beer, at only 4.4%, but who’s counting?) I might have warmed to it more if it hadn’t been on the turn – I guess they can’t have sold enough of it. Whatever all those people were drinking, it can’t have been that.

Back on the bus for Withington and the Vic, which was also full but not insanely so. Nothing dark here and nothing over 4.5% apart from Hyde’s Last Drop, which was… OK. Well, it was just about OK. Malty, grainy blandness with a slight tannic edge – like a best bitter but not so interesting. I’d love to like Hyde’s beers more than I do, but they never seem to hit the spot with me. At least they don’t brew Anvil any more.

Then ho forth to Didsbury. I started at the far end, with the Gateway. They had Saltaire‘s Winter Ale on: a perfectly nice, flavoursome but not particularly memorable BB.

Back in Didsbury proper, I headed for the Royal Oak. The Royal Oak was probably the first pub I ever went to in Manchester, and I’ve got glowing memories of what it was like in its 1980s prime. (They served a terrific pint of Marston’s dark mild, I remember. And that was before I’d even discovered the cheese.) Well, the 1980s left town some time ago, and the Royal Oak isn’t what it was. It’s a perfectly serviceable high-street boozer, though; if I lived in Didsbury and liked Pedigree I’d probably go there myself. The choice on this occasion was Marston’s bitter, Pedigree and Banks’s Fine Fettle (or should I say “Banks’s”). The barmaid was a bit disorganised – no sign of a sticker, and she dealt with a request for Fine Fettle by pulling a pint of Bitter, then (when her mistake was pointed out) explaining that the FF was off and turning the clip round. Nothing wrong with that, except that she pulled a pint of FF for the next person who ordered it…

I’ve said good things about the Fletcher Moss here before, and it is rather a nice pub, architecturally at least. Can’t say much for the beer selection, though. Another half of Last Drop. I know it’s historic and everything, but I can’t say I’ll be sorry when it runs out.

Last Drop, Pedigree, a winter ale that wasn’t quite, a seasonal that turned out to be a best bitter… by now I was positively jonesing for a dark beer. No such luck. The closest thing I could find to a qualifier at the Milson Rhodes was Bateman’s Rosey Nosey, yet another variation on the theme of “something vaguely winter-y with a novelty pump clip”. It was fine. The best thing on the bar was Hawkshead NZPA, so I had a half of that as well. That was excellent – but, of course, not a ‘winter warmer’. But then, neither was anything else.

This area Total
Old ale / Barley wine 0 3
Porter / stout 0 6
Vaguely Christmassy beer 3 4
A.N. Other Beer at 4.5% or over 5 8

Eight pubs; zero old ales; zero porters or stouts. I’m looking forward to Stockport.

Winter wonders 2

More Winter Warmer Wander.

Part 2: Chorlton

There are six Chorlton pubs on the Wander.

I don’t remember what I had with my WWW sticker at Pi, but it doesn’t really matter; I’ve had three or four porters or stouts there in the last few weeks, all of them good. Lately they’ve also had a few ‘winter’ beers, including the rather stellar Tatton Red Hot Poker – a proper old ale at 6%.

The night I hit the Marble Beerhouse with stickers in mind, they had Campbell & Stronge on, so I had a half of that. It’s a strong red ale, putting it well over on the dark side by Marble’s standards. I didn’t much like it, I have to say; there was quite a complex combination of flavours in there, but I wasn’t sure if they all worked together or even if they were all meant to be there. ‘Clean’ it wasn’t.

Then ho forth to the local JDW’s, the Sedge Lynn. Nothing dark or wintry there – mind you, this was mid-December (and the first night of the WWW), so they may have made good that omission since then. So I had a Wobbly Bob. You can’t go far wrong with a Wobbly when it’s in good condition, and this one was. I’m always slightly surprised not to see Wobbly Bob at other Spoons – it’s been a fixture on the bar at the Sedge Lynn for so long that I think of it as a house beer, like GK IPA. I rarely order it, though, so it was nice to have an excuse.

There was nothing cask-conditioned and dark and >4.4% at Electrik, and for a moment I was wondering about going for something unreal (they had Anchor Porter on keg). In the nick of time I remembered that qualifying beers only had to be dark or >4.4%, and went for a pint of their own Black Out XO. I sometimes feel a bit odd about cask stout, given that it’s essentially a style that’s come back from the dead within my drinking lifetime – are we drinking good cask stouts these days? how would we know? But such philosophical worries dissolve when faced with Black Out; my palate says it’s a very nice stout indeed, and I’m not arguing.

There was an even more recent revival at Horse and Jockey, where Conwy‘s Honey Porter called to me. Conwy do some extraordinary things in the darkish, sweetish, maltish line; a Honey Porter should be right up their street, and so indeed it was. I had a honey beer from them once before (Honey Fayre, aka Cwrw Mêl (the Welsh for ‘honey beer’, unimaginatively enough)) and found the honey a bit overpowering. Not so with the Honey Porter – a beautifully balanced beer. The Horse seemed to be doing all right, too. The previous time I’d been in the pub had been unusually full, and I’d seen one pump-clip after another turned round until only the Holt’s Bitter and IPA were left (I had the IPA). No such problems this time; guest beers and in-house brewery in full effect.

And finally, the Parlour. I haven’t really got the measure of the Parlour; it looks like a rather up-market gastro-pub until you get inside, when it turns into a welcoming and comfortable real ale bar. It certainly doesn’t feel like a pub – even to the same extent as the heavily dining-oriented Horse – but that’s not such a bad thing. The beer choice is generally excellent, anyway, and this visit was no exception. Old Tom, on cask, sparkled, and 20p a pint cheaper than the Castle (which is a Robinson’s house). Get (as I was saying earlier) in.

Scores on the doors:

This area Total
Old ale / Barley wine 2 3
Porter / stout 2 6
Vaguely Christmassy beer 0 1
A.N. Other Beer at 4.5% or over 2 3

Chorlton did the WWW proud – which is just as well, as the next area is a bit of a shocker.

Winter wonders 1

I had high hopes of this year’s Winter Warmer Wander. Taking advantage of my current part-time status and the late end to the autumn school term, I was going to Do Chorlton, then Do Town, Do Fallowfield And Withington And All Those, and (saving the best till last) Do Stockport. 25 ticks would be the work of four or perhaps five days, and what fine days they would be.

Then a few things happened in quick succession. First, I remembered that I’d decided to get all my marking done before Christmas, so as not to have to do it in my own time over the break; in practice this meant doing some of it in my own time before the break, & hence eating into my WWW opportunities. No sooner had I got down to that than a cold which had been threatening to develop since mid-October decided to develop good and proper; I was working again within a couple of days, but it was a while before I was match-fit on the boozing front. When a day or two did become available, a look at the calendar sufficed to tell me that Christmas shopping was going to have to be the first priority. Then it was Christmas – and call me a hidebound traditionalist, but for all the many things Christmas is a Time For, I don’t believe it’s a Time For Dad To Bugger Off On A Pub Crawl. Not more than once, anyway.

So here we are in January, and I haven’t got my 25 ticks yet – haven’t even made it to Stockport. But here’s where I have been.

Part 1: Manchester City Centre

The Paramount and the Waterhouse. I group these two together because they’re both Spoons (although very different pubs) and because I haven’t got a clue what I had in either of them. This is rather embarrassing, so I won’t dwell on it. I think it was a stout at the Waterhouse and a 4.5ish seasonal bitter at the Paramount, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

At Joshua Brooks I had a half of Rooster‘s Liquorice Stout; it was clean and well-balanced and so on, but marred slightly by the fact that I don’t like liquorice. (What can I say, I thought I might have grown out of it.) JB’s is very much a student pub, although how they afford it I’m not sure – Old Tom aside, I think this was the single dearest beer I’ve had.

Moving along… At the Micro Bar I had a half of one of their permanent beers, Boggart Rum Porter. It was in good nick and very nice.

I’ve never seen anything dark at 57 Thomas St, and this visit was no exception. The Lagonda IPA was in surprisingly good condition – I’ve had very few well-conditioned beers on stillage, and plenty that weren’t. This was pretty good, though.

There had been rumours of Decadence on tap at the Marble Arch, but if it was on it had gone off by the time I got there. I had a half of Chocolate Marble and stood around like a spare part trying vainly to find somewhere to sit down. The Marble Arch genuinely is “deceptively spacious” – it looks a lot more spacious than it is. A less-than-satisfactory visit was rounded off when I parked my glass on a convenient bench while I visited the Gents, only to find when I got out that it had been cleared away. (There wasn’t much left in it, but still.)

Ah well, there’s always the Castle. What brewery is the Castle? Robinson’s. What do they have on permanently, at least while there’s an R in the month? Old Tom. I rest my case. Initially I thought I was out of luck – there was no sign of the usual pin on the bar – but when I asked it turned out that the Old Tom had just been put on, on handpump. Old Tom, from cask, sparkled. Get in.

Scores so far:

Old ale / Barley wine 1
Porter / stout 4
Vaguely Christmassy beer 1
A.N. Other Beer at 4.5% or over 1