When you think of the great destination beer towns in this country your mind probably starts to list them roughly as follows: Sheffield, Huddersfield, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Leeds, Derby etc. etc. I suppose to some extent the list you come up with will be influenced by a number of factors including where you live, how often you get out and about, what you drink and whether you are a ticker or not. Either way, you will have certain places that you will regard as worth going to, whatever your beery predilections. Almost certainly you won't include Rochdale. This may be about to change.
Historically a part of Lancashire, Rochdale's recorded history begins with an entry in the Domesday Book of 1086. Today it is a large market town of 95,000 people about 10 miles from Manchester, with some nice buildings and the usual concrete monstrosities of shopping centres somewhat dominating. It is the birthplace of the Co-op. What it also has is quite a few free houses and these are starting to wake up to the potential of cask ale. Currently in the centre there are around five decent free houses within a fifteen minute walk of each other. I don't know about you, but to me, that is a decent little crawl.
You could do worse than start as I did at the Cask and Feather. This used to be the home of Thomas McGuinness Brewing, which lasted quite a few years, producing rather bland beers until a fire stopped all that. The pub is nothing special, but two beers from Phoenix were tried and were in excellent condition. Navvy was clean with a very bitter resinous finish. Snowbound was fuller in the body with a good hop finish and made a good start to my crawl. I didn't try Thwaites Lancaster Bomber. So three ever changing beers here.
A ten minute walk takes you to the Baum in the conservation area. This is a smashing place. With wooden boards, old enamel adverts, a mature clientèle, tapas and full meals available, a good selection of foreign beers and up to five ever changing guest beers, what's not to like? It is one of the few places I know where the staff are as good as the Angel in Manchester. Lately they have upped their beer game here and yesterday was no exception. Dark was the theme and the sheer good condition of the beers reminded me what a pleasure it is to drink top quality milds and porters. Additionally you get 40p off a pint on production of a CAMRA membership card! First up was Rochdale's own Green Mill Brewery. The beer was Dark Side and at 3.9% it was tasty and moreish. I followed this up with the excellent 3B's Knocker Up, a 4.8% traditional porter which was soothing, full bodied with a long smooth, malty finish. Then by contrast Phoenix Porter at 5%. A real treat this, with a full malty body and enough hop to lift it beyond the Knocker up for this writer. The finish was resinous, but just malty enough to keep it out of the stout category. A classic. My last beer wasn't so successful. Hornbeam Blackcurrant Wheat, was astringent, thin and had a weedy finish, where you could just about detect blackcurrant. Not great in my view, but the barmaid professed to quite liking it, though she also admitted it had had a mixed reception. I didn't try the Moorhouses Premier.
Next up was the GBG listed Regal Moon (JDW) which is newly managed by a regular at our pub, He used to manage the JDW in Huddersfield and intends to build up the cask side of things. I stuck to two superb beers, both from Elland Brewery. Savannah was 3.8%, pale, hoppy and very drinkable, while the 4.2% Eden was stunningly good, with Chinook hops providing bitterness and Cascade a resiny fruity finish. What a good beer. Greene King IPA was on at 99p, but only two pints were sold when I was there. There are usually seven or eight beers here and most aren't the usual JDW suspects, though there is no choice but to sell IPA. However it seems if that is not available, an alternative 99p beer will be offered.
My last call was the Flying Horse a mere two minutes away. There I could have chosen Green Mill, Moorhouses, Landlord, Lees or Phoenix. Naturally I went for Phoenix, this time, Thirsty Moon which was clean, bitter, aromatic and downright tasty.
So there you have it. I didn't get round to the Merrie Monk which has Hydes and a guest, but around 20 different beers, all good quality in a short, tight little crawl. Rochdale is coming up beer wise. Keep your eye on it.
Next! - I've been writing about the Irish Craft Beer Festival at the RDS all this week, but before we tumble headlong into the rest of September's festivals (four ...
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