I don't think Manchester is unique in having a fairly large number of trendy bars that aren't, in the traditional sense at least, pubs, but it is surely unusual on having large concentrations of them in two distinct and compact areas, Chorlton and in town, the Northern Quarter. What I'd venture is even more unusual, is that almost all of them sell cask ale and good cask ale at that. So, on Saturday, with my oldest friend Mike, we tried a few and didn't go to a single pub as such. And did we get good beer? You bet we did. Admittedly, none of it was cheap, but hey, that's Manchester for you. It is rapidly becoming in some places at least, as expensive as London, but at least the beer is well conditioned, at the correct temperature and (usually) sparkled.
We started off in Odd, which is part of a well thought of chain, though this branch seemed determined to buck the trend. Two beers from Privateer - yet another new Manchester brewery - a blonde and a brown one. Pints of the blonde were procured and found to be vinegar. Not good. The brown one was okay, but warm. Neither were sparkled with an explanation (by the manager I assume) that the barstaff couldn't get the hang of them and kept losing them, so they gave up. Really? Get better bar staff then, or someone who knows how to train them.
Things looked up after that in the fairly new Pie and Ale, with perfect but pricey (£3.60) Wilson Potter Tandle Hill. So impressed was Mike that we had to have another. It's one of my favourite beers, so no hardship there. This is a very modern (and a bit soulless) bar concentrating on good beers and pie and mash. They keep the beer very well, so no complaints at all and the barman was a friendly enough sort. It's a short walk thence to Port St Beer House and again excellent service abounded with advice (decent) and tasters offered. We picked Caveman Palaeolithic and while it had some interesting and unidentifiable flavours, it wasn't bad at all.
Another skip round the corner took us to the excellent Soup Kitchen, a semi basement den, with the highest bar stools I've ever come across. Men should be particularly careful in both ascending and descending, lest they ruin future chances. It was pleasantly busy with studenty types scoffing vegetable forward options. Stout was the order of the day, from Liverpool Organic and damn fine it was too. Heading back to Victoria Station to be handy for Mike's train, we popped into Common, a sister to PSBH and in an incredibly busy and vibrant bar, I was rewarded by Weird Beard Black Perle, a Milk Coffee Stout. Now coffee stouts aren't my favourite thing, but this was well balanced and not over coffeed and went down a treat. Cask conditioned and sparkled since you ask.
One last call. Across the road from Common is Terrace, a long, bare brick bar with a youngish crowd. There we finished off with Overtime from Six O'Clock Beer Company and finally, as us old men staggered off for a night snoring on the settee, Magic Rock Carnival.
The striking thing was that apart from our first place, we didn't get a bad beer, they were all thrivingly busy and it was good to see most bars supporting new local breweries. Pubs are great, but good bars aren't bad either.
There was of course craft keg, but having laid out the route, someone else can have a pricey bash at that.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer author, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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