A couple of Saturdays ago I was out and about in Manchester with E and the erstwhile landlady, now a staffer at a local JDW and her husband, a manager with JDW. Both are old friends and having just started a couple of weeks off, were enjoying a beer or two. We joined them after they'd made a reasonable start on the ale and had a decent little crawl through parts of the Northern quarter, the sole criteria, stipulated by herself, being that the Landlady hadn't visited it before.
We started in 57 Thomas St, Marble Brewery's outlet in this trendy part of town. I hadn't been since they did up the upstairs and made that a cask bar. Nicely done, but I was surprised - not in a good way - to find the beers served by gravity behind a glass partition. Very micro pub. My pint of Pint was completely knackered, my experience not enhanced by the barman tilting the cask forward by hand to give me a full pint. Surprisingly after that it was clear, but unsurprisingly, totally flat. I had it exchanged for another, but somehow I feel that gravity pours rarely work that well unless turnover is mighty fast. I also wondered why they hadn't reversed their refurbishment by putting the keg upstairs and the cask on handpump below. To me, this way round, it didn't work.
Moving on we discovered that on a warm late Saturday afternoon, cellars were obviously not working to their optimum. We had disappointingly too warm beers in the Soup Kitchen and the Allotment Bar, but the side was held up by Pie and Ale which was spot on. Resisting the blandishments and blatant pleading from one of our party to move on to Spinningfields and ruling out of hand a visit to Lees Millstone, which was packed to the rafters and a bit rough and ready, even for me - and I'm not that choosy - we compromised by heading to the Unicorn for that rarest of beasts, Draught Bass. Our JDW manager doubted its existence (he may have thought it a Robinsons House) and still muttering about the Millstone - he has managed quite a few Lees pubs in his time - we entered to the usual mayhem. The place was packed four deep at the bar, every seat was taken and the hubbub of conversation took us all back to pubs of many years ago, this time without the fug of cigarette smoke. All types were represented here. Middle aged couples arriving for a night out, a hen party, gaga with booze, but adding shriekingly to the already vibrant atmosphere, ne'er do wells in corners conspiring over Carling, well dressed gents having one before moving on, locals standing at the bar, guarding their usual spot with pained defiance and practised ease, despite the mob behind baying for beer. It was all rather marvellous.
The staff bustled about dispensing lager and Worthington Smooth at top speed. Unknown beer from the wicket was seen being cranked up and down and dispensed at speed. From our place in the crowd we could just about see the rear of the handpumps in the circular bar. Our JDW man glumly bawled to me above the merry din "Bet the Bass isn't on." I caught a barman's eye and shouted out that rarely heard order "Two pints of Draught Bass please."
Not only was the Bass on, it was superb. In this time capsule, it seemed just the thing to drink. We had two pints each.
The Unicorn was a Bass House and Bass is still one of the permanent beers. The presence of Worthington Smooth is another clue. I wrote about it and Bass here a couple of years ago, but I liked the Bass less then. I wonder why?
Our JDW man will enquire if he can procure a trial cask of Bass for his pub. I do hope he obtains it. I reckon it will sell.
I squeezed through the crowd for the photo. Wouldn't want to do that twice.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, 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 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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