Tuesday 26 January 2016

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival

Well, it is over now and I'm just about recovered.  All the planning and hard work was worth it. We had 14,800 through the door, we sold 45,000 pints or thereabouts of real ale and all the cider, almost all of the foreign beer and most of the keykeg. In short, it went bloody well.

I spent the last hour and a half or so of the last session asking customers at random what they thought of it and most importantly if they'd come back again if we do it next year. The answer without fail was a resounding "Yes".

So what went well from my point of view and what didn't?

Went well:

Venue: Was superb and easy to work.  All on one level, everything dropped where we needed, all well planned and going from a vast empty hall to one filled with bars, stalls and thousands of people and then back to a vast empty hall again was oh so satisfying.  And people loved it. Everyone I asked was thrilled with the room, the seating, the ease of getting there and everything about it.  Even when at its busiest, it was navigable. The hall staff were ever helpful to us and they loved it and want us back.

Door Arrangements:  I was in overall charge of this area and it operated pretty smoothly. We opened on time, we closed on time, we got people in quickly and queuing outside was kept to a minimum. Nobody was turned away.  The staff there quickly formed a very cohesive little team and worked well together despite it being the coldest area to work in. Well done them.

The Customers: An absolute delight. From the trade people who cheerfully accepted things when we had a problem with cash (see below) to the old CAMRA codgers to the younger crowd on Friday and the cheerfully mixed one on Saturday, all were pleasant, happy and when we needed them to be, patient. We had no security incidents to record.  As always it was great to talk to so many beery people (did you know you can just about say "Beer people are good people" without having to stick your fingers down your throat?) and a special mention must be given to all my fellow bloggers who were a delight and not too pissed.  In fact no-one was too pissed. Nobody threw up in the toilets and there were no first aid incidents in the hall. With my H&S hat on, yippee.

Toilets:  Some improvement needed, but by and large they were kept clean, waiting time was usually short and despite a touch of insurrection over toilet gender reallocation, fairly laid back about (short) waits. On my trip round asking customer views, nobody complained about them, though I personally felt we needed more.

Beer: We got so many compliments about both prices and quality.  There may have been the odd duff beer but fortunately none came my way.  On my rounds so many people thought it was great value for money. The KeyKeg bar with real ale (fully compliant with CAMRA's definition of real ale if you were doubting this) was well received. The roof didn't fall in and we move on.  The Foreign Beer Bar had some great stuff too and I for one really enjoyed the brewery bars which seemed to be a roaring success. Brewers, assuming we do this again, my top tip is to get in early, offer your most interesting brews and don't shilly shally if you want a spot. There will be overwhelming demand next time.

Tasting Sessions and Great Manchester Beer Debate:  The tasting sessions, new to us were very well received. With a top team of presenters, well chosen beers and a crowd that made them so interactive, they were a delight, though surprisingly hard to organise, but (my area again) I learned a lot.

We've learned a lot from the beer debate. I was on the panel, along with Hardknott Dave Bailey, Mark Welsby and Jeremy Stull from Beermoth. I think we should have invited questions to the panel as we drifted a little into cask v keg and audience speeches, but hey, it's the first time and we'll likely do it again. Thanks to Connor Murphy who kept it all going.

Volunteers: Fantastic. Endlessly willing and cheerful. Perhaps most impressive was that the Manchester Central Event Manager thought them as good as any professionals at setting up and taking down - and he's seen a few.  They served willingly as always and it was great to see a lot of new faces and many younger ones.  A special mention as always to the stewards. they don't have a drink at all during the festival open times and they are the unsung heroes of this event.

Went not so well:

Not a lot really.  There was mixed reports on the food and if anyone has anything helpful to say on that, fire away. This was provided by the venue. Let me know in the comments box, what you'd actually like to see next year.  We were let down too by our bank and our security company over cash and had to hurriedly construct a token system in about fifteen minutes flat. It worked and cash was a problem to us throughout, as when you start with less than you need, you are always playing catch up. My own apologies to those that got their glass refunds in twenty pence pieces!  There will be a million other things too internally and we do try and improve each year.  There have been helpful suggestions in other blogs and we will look at them. We aren't stuck in the mud in Manchester and we'll try and do even better next year. If there is one.

We have to go away now and ask our usual round of  "How was it for you?" to all our staff and Heads of Departments.  We'll have to crunch the numbers and balance the books. Most of all we'll need to see who is up for it again and get a price we can live with.  Here's hoping.

Photo one is me with John Keeling of Fullers. John's a Manchester lad and was at the festival with two of his pals from way back. That's classy.

Photo two is my pal Erlangernick with the inimitable Roger Protz. We could have a caption competition here as to what Roger is saying. "Who the fuck's this is already taken."

Thursday 14 January 2016

Hokkaido the Noo

Perhaps living in Manchester (well nearly) I should be aware of Hydes Brewery's seasonal range under the "Provenance Brewing from Hydes" banner, but sadly I wasn't.  That was corrected last night, in emphatic manner, in our temporary Wednesday night HQ, the Flying Horse in Rochdale.  I arrived just after nine to a fairly busy pub, still adorned with its full Christmas decorations, lights gleaming cheerily and incongruously. On the way I had passed and noted the merrily twinkling Official Borough Christmas tree, shining out in the pissing rain.  Enquiries revealed that this delay is to include and celebrate Ukrainian Orthodox Epiphany, which apparently is a big thing in Rochdale and will delay official end of  shenanigans until the 19th of January.  I may of course be having my plonker pulled, but there you go - that's what I was told. Don't say I never tell you anything useful.

Recommended to me by the landlord, Hokkaido is a pale, hoppy, citric little number, containing that most difficult of hops Sorachi Ace.  In my experience Sorachi Ace is a hop that you love or hate and it displays itself to me as either revolting - or bloody brilliant when it is done right.  Variously described as "having intense lemony flavors, Sorachi Ace also runs the gamut from white flowers, dust, and tea, to bubble gum, dill, and coriander. This hop is ideal for IPAs, saisons and wheat beers."  As it happens, Hydes had used it for a pretty straightforward hoppy golden ale and boy did it work.  I always feel that Hyde's beers can be relied on for their wonderful full body and so it proved here. Nothing wishy washy at all, but a backbone of malt that stood up to the hops particularly well.  Lemony, slightly herbal (coriander) and very moreish, most of us switched to it. I stuck with it until chucking out time.  It was a great decision and also, to the delight of some, on offer - I know not why - at a mere £2 a pint.

On this performance, Hydes is well overlooked. I must correct that with more frequent visits to Manchester.

The full Hydes range for 2016 is here. Worth a look I say.  The Regal Moon, our usual haunt, is still closed after the flooding. I'll keep you informed of progress in due course.

The title of this post is a nod to the Beer Nut and one of an occasional series.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Want to Talk About Beer?

We'll be having a discussion on beer at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival on Saturday 23rd January.  OK, there will be lots of discussions about beer at the festival, but this will be a pukka organised one, with someone helping the discussion along and keeping some kind of order, some geezers sitting at a top table talking bollocks about the amber nectar and there will even be seats - 100 of them - to stop the drunks falling over before they can get round to asking questions. 

The Great Manchester Beer Debate will take place in the foyer at Manchester Central. You will have to pay to get in, but there's no cost to come along and ask our distinguished panel that burning question. We'll have Dave Bailey of Hardknott, who will also be singing and dancing to warm us up, Jeremy Stull from Beermoth, Mark Welsby from Runaway Brewery and creeping in quietly and trying desperately to keep up, will be your hero, Tandleman.  We will likely also have one other local on the team and holding the jackets will be Connor Murphy who will tread a fine line between control and hysteria as the ale fuelled debate ebbs and flows.

That sounds OK doesn't it?  Do come along and make it three pints in lively.  2.30 p.m.

Don't forget the beer tastings either. Roger Protz, Christine Cryne and John Clarke. What's not to like?  This is not your ordinary CAMRA shindig.

Saturday 9 January 2016

The Countdown Begins in Earnest

Today I'm off to Atherton ( no I'm not sure where it is either) for the CAMRA Regional Meeting, but more importantly in my eyes, for the final organising meeting for the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival (MBCF).

This is going to be massive Folks.  It will be held in Manchester Central - formerly G-Mex - a huge former railway terminus and now an exhibition centre with the latest facilities.  There will be hundreds of real ales, many dozens of traditional ciders and of course, our now famous Foreign Beer Bar, which will feature rare delights both in bottle and on tap and for the first time, we think, at a major CAMRA festival, a dedicated Keykeg Bar where we will feature beers from cutting edge brewers, but all conditioned by natural CO2 and not force carbonated.  They meet the CAMRA definition of real ale, so what's not to like? Come and see what you think.

We'll have tutored beer tastings from Roger Protz, Christine Cryne and our very own John Clarke (tickets still available, link below), impromptu "Meet the Brewer" sessions, a free debate on the future of beer in our vibrant city of Manchester with some leading local and national personalities and much, much more.  Transport there is a piece of cake, there will be thousands of seats, it is all on one level and it is as cheap as chips.  No craft bar prices here.

This won't be boring, so be there. I'll be telling you more about it in detail next week.

Tickets for the festival can be ordered here and tickets for the beer tastings here. You can pay on the door too of course.

Friday 8 January 2016

Gone But Not Forgotten

I am grateful to the lads at Pubs of Manchester for providing a link to a number of long gone pubs in the Oldham area on Twitter and one or maybe two that are still going.  The Never Ending Pub Crawl is written contemporaneously, but in this case refers to a crawl of Oldham which took place in February 1987.  The aim was to try some Oldham Brewery pubs before they were "Boddingtonised", Oldham Brewery having been taken over by Boddies in 1982 and closed five years later in 1987.

Now this strikes a chord with me, as I too remember doing a similar thing with E reluctantly driving, but regrettably, I didn't photograph them and frankly, with one or two exceptions, I can't remember which they were, or when exactly I went to them but it must have been around that time, though maybe a bit after, as I worked in nearby Failsworth when I moved from Liverpool and there were certainly plenty of OB houses in the old livery dotted around then.

Now as I knew no-one in the area at that time, I used to go out with a few of the people I worked with for a pint and one place I can distinctly remember is featured in the pub crawl above. It was the Rose of Lancaster, a fine old red brick, multi roomed boozer which I fondly remember as being warm and comfortable, but of course, given the passage of time, may have been a draughty old dump. No matter, that's not the point I want to make.  What I do remember is that when we went there, there was always plenty of young Asian lads openly and happily drinking beer there. Such a thing, I imagine, is pretty well unthinkable now.

Times change and the Rose has long since been knocked down, but my memories of what was a large and somewhat multi cultured drinking establishment remain fond ones.

As you can see from the photo, nicked with acknowledgement from the website above, the pub wasn't quite red brick, but those are my memories and it was always dark when I went there.

The photos are great in the Never Ending Pub Crawl, but why in the old days did we always take photos from so far away? The ones I took then are exactly the same. 

Wednesday 6 January 2016

The Moon Under Water

In the recent floods, one of my regular haunts, the Regal Moon in Rochdale was severely flooded.  The photo shows just how bad it was outside and now, I have seen the photos of the inside, courtesy of the manager who is one of my CAMRA members and indeed, a mate of mine.

When water gets into a building it naturally finds the lowest level it can. In this case, in a very large former cinema, built in 1938, it went into the cellars underneath the bar as well as wrecking the bar itself.  The kitchen was ruined too and of course all food written off as well as all open stock and stock touched by the filthy water, which as well as mud, contained sewage.  All pretty grim.  The scene is one of devastation.

So what happens next? Well a number of things. Structural engineers will have to see if permanent damage has been done, the company has to decide how it will be refurbished assuming it is safe and of course the insurers will be involved as reinstatement is the usual requirement of insurers, not wholesale change.  In addition the local authority will have to ensure that all its needs are met and that items from the interior which were listed are re-instated if required.  It will all take time. Best guess is an Easter reopening, worst case scenario is the summer.  All this has been hugely upsetting for the staff who are all a very close team. It has been likened to a bereavement. JDW have been great though and ensured that everyone has been given a temporary job elsewhere, but of course, not in Rochdale. My Wednesday nights are disrupted as is that of its many regulars.  I suppose the only bonus is that other pubs will get a welcome boost, probably the nearby Sam Smith's pub for it's cheap beer.

We'll be going to the Flying Horse tonight. The Sam's pub is keg only.

It may be that there would have been no cask either anyway. I understand that with the flooding of Sam Smith's yard in Tadcaster, thousands of wooden casks have been contaminated and need a deep clean. Cask may be off for some time.

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Nostalgia or Good Business?

Those of us that are a bit more long in the tooth than most, have fond and maybe rose tinted views of the beers of the past. We remember clearly when someone would say "Let's go for a pint in the Dog and Duck" and the first response would be "Whose ale is it?"  We may not have been that knowledgeable about hop varieties or styles - indeed, broadly, there were only two styles, mild or bitter. Our minds were completely untroubled by IBUs or indeed IPAs and if terms such as "craft", "barrel aged" or "sour" were presented to us they would have been as incomprehensible then as would have been the internet or computers. But whose beer was on sale was important to us. We did have one relatively geeky word though - "traditional" for that is what we called real ale then - or cask as it is so often now described. It was trad beer that we sought.  We knew it to be better. And we knew what we liked. A darts match in a Whitbread House would have us beating an early and agreed retreat to a more conducive venue - a place with better ale, where we didn't have to dilute keg Trophy with a bottle of Forest Brown to make it drinkable.  It would quite often be a Higsons' house.

Matt Curtis , in a very good piece has written, yesterday I think, about the second wave of brewing, where sleeker, better equipped operations such as Mondo Brewing and Cloudwater with state of the art German built breweries and brewers who actually have training, are likely to make a big impression on the brewing scene. Some seem to look down on this, but Matt makes the very valid point that while lots of brewers can produce decent enough beers, what we need is consistency. As Matt puts it,  "Dependability goes hand in hand with sustainability."  While I may not agree entirely that brewers such as Magic Rock and Beavertown are on their way to becoming regionals, there is evidence that great plant and good brewing technique can grow a business. Not a million miles from me, Moorhouses is a perfect example and in deepest Staffordshire, Joules is another.  Though their plants are nearly as shiny and modern and capable, their business model is a million miles from the urban keg forward models Matt is used to, but this merely underlines Matt's point. The second wave of breweries is growing and diversifying, even if they are in some cases, producing not Alts or Double IPAs, but cask conditioned bitters and golden ales. Matt's point still remains perfectly valid and if you want a decent growth strategy, there is certainly merit in going bigger from the start.   Therein too lies your exit strategy should you want one -  and everyone should.

This brings me neatly back to Higsons. I read with interest in the Liverpool Echo that a new Higsons Brewery company has applied for planning permission to build a new brewery "The planning documents say the primary business would be the “production and sale of craft beer (including draught beer, bottle beer and spirits)” but the facility would also include a bar/cafe and “an upper floor beer hall where visitors can also enjoy a selection of ‘grazing’ food”.  Significantly, the plan includes "a state of the art, highly engineered, German-manufactured beer production plant which will occupy the majority of the available ground floor".  This sounds ambitious but this business model does have legs as outlined above. I do hope though that they can bring back Higsons Bitter in a recognisable (cask conditioned) recipe. And, of course, do other things too. Mixed cask and keg is good.

Liverpool is a very sentimental place and the name Higsons still resonates.  It needs a beer it can call its own.  Fingers crossed, Higsons can be synonymous with Liverpool once more.

Bringing back dead beers can be a good thing. Joules is an example of existing success and Roger Protz has been tasting Charrington IPA at Burton.  You need to have a receptive audience though.

It still astonishes me that many "beer drinkers" have never gone into a pub and asked for "A pint of bitter please.".

Monday 4 January 2016


Anyone else seen the bus shelter adverts for Cancer Research UK? I mean the one where they suggest you give up the demon drink (my words) and have "one less sin" (their words). One or two things occur to me about this. I didn't know drinking was a sin. Is it one of the ten commandments? Did Moses come down from the mountain saying "Thou shalt not have a few beers".  No he bloody well didn't. Perhaps Cancer Research are using a more liberal definition of sin, as in the Urban Dictionary's "Good, dirty fun". The serious point is that calling drinking a sin is just another attempt to denormalise drinking.  There's other things I dislike about it too, but just have a look at it here and make up your own mind.

I had kind of thought that given that the lies that prop up the anti alcohol campaigners have been exposed as such time and again, that they might let up a bit. Not a chance.  In fact the Nanny State's latest judgement that a pint and a half a day (except when you have to abstain for two days) is your lot will be promulgated any day now.  A pint and a half a day would equate to seven and a half pints a week. Tops. Oh Dear.  Forget that leisurely Sunday session with your  mates, because you can't save it up and have it at once. If you are fond of the stronger craft beers, well maybe two thirds at the most?  That'll be a fun session. If it wasn't for the risk to jobs and revenue putting a bit of a brake on all this, you wonder how much worse this all might become?

One thing is for sure. Cynicism is the correct approach in this area. They are coming for us and they are making inroads. Mudgie was right all along. 

For an alternative view, Tryjanuary, see the Morning Advertiser here.  I can't find the bus shelter advert on line but Cookie has one here on his twitter feed. 

Sorry this isn't as well written as I'd like, but after a few goes at it, this as good as I'm likely to get it.

Sunday 3 January 2016

Letting Standards Slip?

You can't but fail to know that  Manchester is one of the best cities for pubs and drinking in the UK.  It gets a fair old lot of praise from many writers who tend to just dip in, have a few beers in a renowned watering hole and then bugger off back to where they came from, singing its praises and returning the their main and desired theme of how good London is beer wise, even though it isn't as good as is alleged really.  Up here we know how good Manchester is beer wise, but of course that can vary a little too.

New openings though do keep everyone on their toes - or at least should if the incumbents have any sense - and we've had one or two.  I rather like the Smithfield Market Tavern in its new Blackjack Brewery Tap get up, though it was of course a very famous but down- at-heel pub back in the day, but got exceedingly tattier (it was always tatty) as the years rolled on.  At least I could always be assured of a late drink there as I was one of those - rather a large number it must be said - who could knock on the side door and be admitted.  It was taken over not that long ago and money spent on it, but it wasn't a great success, mainly as standards were poor and the beer was usually shite or off.  Now it is clean, popular and booming in the hands of people who know what they are doing and who have turned a failure into what seems to be a roaring success.

Other notables are the much awaited Cafe Beermoth in Spring Gardens, described by my good friend Tyson here which I visited during the Christmas period. It was trading well and was enjoyable as much for the varied and pleasant clientèle, as for the excellent range of beers, sensible pricing, great service and the general feel of the place. It needs to settle in, and I would have liked to see more cask and less keg, but I liked it nonetheless and it will likely be a sure place to visit when I'm in town. Also praised and described by Tyson (and by Stonch no less)  is a place that is certainly is at the other end of the spectrum. Albert's Schloss is an astonishing and expensive conversion of a grand old building on Peter St, just a few doors down from the gloomy BrewDog.  This is a breathtakingly cheeky pastiche of a German Beer Hall, complete with a mostly German menu, an in house bakery, German beers and the biggest draw of all, to this
writer, Tankovna Pilsner Urquell.  It is big - on a grand scale in fact - brash, cheerful, expensive and attracting a mixed crowd. It will be interesting to see how well this will trade in future, but I fancy it will do well enough.

So what's all this got to do with the title of this blog post?  Well, in comparison to these new places, into each life a little rain must fall. I have heard tales that some of the more "established" places - and these aren't that old - have dropped their guard more than somewhat and are losing their lustre by changing what worked before and not for the better.   Three at least have had their fair share of complaints about them and I know many who are now giving them a miss. Name names I hear you say. Well not on this occasion, but you can take a good guess I'm sure if you know Manchester.

The point though is this. In the pub game and in a place like Manchester with so much competition, you have to keep at the top of your game. As always, "It's the offer Stupid."

I'm looking forward to trying the German food at Albert's Schloss. In house bakery sounds good too. Have to say the Urquell was lovely, but at a fiver a go, it should be.

Saturday 2 January 2016

Pandemonium at the Pub

As I neared the end of my walk to the pub yesterday I was on my last quarter mile when an approaching car going downhill away from the pub stopped. It was some of our regulars who had just bailed. "It's rammed in there - you'll have trouble getting in the door." I laughed, exchanged New Year's greetings and trudged on.  Boy was he right. I literally fought my way in through a throng of strangers, push chairs and children. Crikey! Dotted round the edges of the bar were a few regulars, but otherwise I didn't know a soul.  I elbowed my way to the bar and got served.  Not much waiting for us bread and butter types and that's how it should be on days such as this.

Our pub is unusual in many ways. Firstly it is fairly remote, set amidst four farms in the middle of a country park and a mile from either Royton or Middleton, up unmade farm lanes which are used mainly for the milk wagon, farmers getting to and from fields by tractor,  livestock and by walkers.  The pub itself is small, old and has just two rooms. The landlord can only make it pay by working the shifts himself entirely. It is really a "hobby pub" where the way of life is part of the deal.  Now of course walkers are part of the passing trade and are very welcome, but this was of a different magnitude. If only some of these once a year drinkers would come a little more often, life would be better for all. We need some more regulars.

I squeezed in at the bar as the pub got busier. I'd only been there a few minutes and watched as orders for soft drinks, teas and coffees, slowed down the serious business of getting a pint or two of beer.  One lady asked the landlord if he remembered her from last New Year's Day.  He replied that he didn't as he whizzed up and up and down. She ordered two coffees. Regulars helped by clearing tables and fetching empty glasses back to the bar as the crowd was three or four deep.  More locals arrived and found a corner here or there.  At ten to three the bell was rung in earnest for the first time I can recall in years.  All waiting were served,  the bell was rung again and that was that. The strangers supped up and left. Not us regulars though, nor those who fancied more than one. The bar opened again shortly after three fifteen for a couple of hours and we carried on supping in a much more civilised manner.  Anyone who passed was admitted, locals or not. The doors weren't closed, but the pub was much more convivial and the landlord got a much needed breather.  He'd worked hard and deserved one.   

The Lees Bitter and Plum Pudding were excellent and when the pub closed, we bailed to the Ship for half an hour while waiting for a taxi.

It was strangely reminiscent of the old days when pubs stopped serving at three all the time.  I quite liked it, but then again I knew I'd be getting another drink. I did too then in my Liverpool local come to think of it. What goes round, come round and being a regular has some advantages!

Friday 1 January 2016

No Bloody Buses

As I sit here writing this I'm contemplating my four and half mile walk to the pub.  My arch nemesis First Bus can't be bothered to run a service on New Year's Day. Perhaps they have joined Dry January? Well they won't stop me. Walk there, walk a mile back down to the Ship and phone a cab. Taxis won't come up the lane, it is so pitted and rutted. (A bit like the first day of the Somme, it looks as though it has been freshly shelled). A taxi from the Ship won't even be that much dearer, so take that First Manchester.

My last beers of 2015 were both from Hawkshead. Damson Stout and Wild Wheat. Both interesting and not in the English meaning, but the German one. I've just listened to Henning Wehn on the radio and now am perfectly clear on the difference.  "Interesting" in English is NOT interesting at all and interesting in German IS interesting. Who'd have thought it?  Enough of that and back to beer. I liked the Damson Stout and though British sour beers don't tend to do it for me, enjoyed the Wild Wheat too.  My last cask beer of 2015 was a surprise to me, as with with its usual incompetence, my local Middleton JDW had very little on cask wise, so I plumped for Otter Claus which was a surprisingly rich, bittersweet beer, so good in fact that I had three of them.

Today my first beer of 2016 will likely be Lees MPA if it is on, or Lees Bitter if it isn't.  It's what I mostly drink, though this year I have made a bit of a resolution to get out more, but after today that'll have to wait. Manchester Beer and Cider Festival will take up most of my time and I'll be writing about it. 

 Finally, you'll have heard of the recent floods up here I suppose?  My Wednesday haunt, the Regal Moon in Rochdale was severely inundated and will be out of action for a yet to be determined period. All the staff have been redistributed throughout the JDW Greater Manchester Spoons. This is hard for them as expected shifts may not materialise and there will be financial hardship. I know the people there and feel for them. Flooding is a terrible thing. Do spare a thought for them today when you are cosy in the pub.

Happy New Year to one and all.  Even First Manchester.

 I hope to see many of you at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. It will be awesome fantastic

I didn't do Golden Pints this year, but my favourite blogger is Seeing the Lizards. If we can't laugh at ourselves.........