Yesterday was a lovely early Autmun day in Manchester and brought with it a day out with my oldest friend - well not oldest - but since day one of starting work in Liverpool almost 40 years ago, oldest in terms of length of friendship. A long time that. Boy have we supped some beer together in that time, but I digress.
First beer up, to decide over a pint where to go, was Holts in the unbeatable atmosphere of the Hare and Hounds on Shudehill. Busy as always, Holt's Bitter in perfect condition and a mere £2.50 a pint. Don't worry, no more prices, as this writer as always took no notes and can't remember much by way of detail. I only know it was a fiver for two pints, as we fought to get the first cheap round in. The raucous atmosphere here is infectious and despite having our ears assaulted, a rough plan emerged.
Next up - Mackie Mayor. This conversion of an old Market hall into a cornucopia of eating and drinking never fails to impress. My Squawk Bitter was even more bitter than the Holts and in great nick too. Mike liked his - whatever it was - so all was well. Just the one there and off to the Crown and Kettle. I plumped for Thornbridge Tropical Swan Nectarine; 3.5%, clear as a bell and utterly delicious, with notes of orangey citrus. One wasn't enough, so I had two, with Mike expressing satisfaction with his Hawkshead Pale. It was tempting to have another, but the next stop was a new one for Mike.
Cask is in a newish development in a canal basin in Ancoats and offers a great range of cask and keg beers. Expertly managed by Warren Mccoubrey, an old acquaintance of mine and former brewer with Marble Beers no less, he knows his stuff. Warren was there and said hello, but my pint of Pictish, though clear, had that bottom of the barrel taste. No problem. It was exchanged and Warren came over later to say he'd checked the cask and it was more or less entirely drained. Vindicated. Squawk Crex (I think) was our beer of choice. This time, pale and much more balanced than the bitter, but with tropical notes was the perfect foil to the warm Autumn sunshine. We basked in this for far too long as we chatted and put the world to rights over too many pints.
So Cask Ale Week was celebrated inadvertently, but in the best possible way. Drinking cask in good Manchester pubs isn't a lottery at all, but a reminder - hardly needed for us two - that served well it is unbeatable. And, as I keep saying, is not at all difficult to do. Despite the warm day, all our pints were at a perfect temperature, weren't over vented or flabby, but conditioned to perfection.
This wasn't intended to be a blog post so no photos were taken. I've just put the beer of the day in instead, though honestly, it could have been any of them, all were so good.
We did have one more beer on the way back to Victoria, but while it was
good, we didn't really need it and shouldn't have had it. It wasn't my idea, but by then judgement was somewhat impaired.
It is a peculiarity of Sam Smith pubs that they hide their ownership light under a bushel. Particularly appropriate as of course, as any ful kno, a bushel was, following the Norman Conquest, part of the legal measure of English wine, ale and grains. But I digress, though anyone seeking out The Junction could easily pass it by, as there is nothing to identify the building as a pub, with even the sign being obscured by trees and bushes. Hidden in plain sight you might say.
So what's it like? Well, a big, ordinary looking, off white building on the corner of a main road and, well, another main road. On a junction you might say. The Junction sprang to fame a few years ago when Humphrey turned up on New Year's Eve at 8.30 p.m, sacked the licensee on the spot and summarily chucked the denizens therein out on the street. The Oldham Chronicle has a report of it all, as does the Daily Mirror. Worth a background read to learn of the somewhat chequered history of this otherwise ordinary pub. I seem to recall tales of a sit-in too, but memories fade. My take back in 2012 is here.
Putting this all behind me, I called in the other night at tea-time. Enter on the right and you are in a rather plain, but welcoming public bar, with a J shaped bar counter, large windows making the place bright and airy. A dart board and oche against one wall and looking round, some fine pictures of Sam's bottled beers of yore. Rectangular small tables were occupied by half a dozen cheery locals - well cheery with each other - they totally ignored me. A pot bellied dog of uncertain provenance completed this bucolic scene. Looking through to the other side a very cosy lounge looked attractive. I reckoned I'd turned the wrong way at the door, but time would tell.
The barmaid was friendly though and my ordered pint of Dark Mild (£1.34) was fetched from the lounge ("It's been poured more recently there" quoth she.) Top lass. She also turned a fan by the bar off as it "might deafen me", but actually while I'd noticed it, it hadn't bothered me at all. The locals were in reminiscing mode, talking of beers of yore, though each seemed, in the time honoured Sam's way, to be drinking lager mixes. ("Yes, Lees Stout was called Archer") I nearly chipped in, but didn't.
After a while, as my pint sank lower, (2.8% and delicious) the barmaid enquired of the codgers if they'd yet bought tickets for the meat raffle. "Classic" I thought as they all chorused that they had. One or two drifted off and I thought that it might be good to try the lounge for another. I'm glad I did. The lounge was splendid. Comfy nooks and crannies, bench seating throughout, bric a brac here and there and again, excellent beer posters. One old lad, with three very doddery old ladies - I noticed as he escorted them to the facilities - ordered them all halves of Alpine. He gave me a cheery hello. I wandered round. Two lads, again drinking lager, were chatting earnestly; a couple sat contentedly in an other cosy area and at the end of the bar, was a fellow drinking Dark Mild. "Aha" I thought.
The barmaid engaged me in conversation of the "You're not from around here" variety, but in a pleasant way, I remarked about the lounge being an attractive area. "Yes", she agreed, "but it's a bugger to clean." Seems she manages, cleans and does everything else. Well, Humph likes his pound of flesh. We also chatted about Pure Brewed Lager which is sadly only in bottles now, the keg version having been a bit too fobby for stocks. Interesting stuff.
Checking the walls from my position at the bar, the usual notices prohibiting this and that were somehow less jarring in this attractive pub, which reminded me with a jolt of how pubs used to be back in the 70s and 80s. As I stood, earwigging at the bar, I overheard a conversation with a local. "The big boss is coming." Surely not Humph? But it was. He was expected at half six to pick up keys for another pub which was awaiting new managers. Blimey. He arrived at about 6.40. I've met him once before and he hadn't changed much. Nice dark suit, dapper, alert and slim with a neat semi comb-over. He didn't look round particularly, merely said hello to the barmaid /manager, she gave him the keys and off he went.
The excitement was over. I finished my pint and reflected on seeing Humph again. Some people never see him at all. Ever. Two or three minutes at the most he was there. You might have blinked and missed him, but I didn't. As Max Boyce once said "I know - coz I was there."
I was telling the barmaid of E's liking for Pure Brewed. She said I should bring her and you know, I will. It's a smashing little pub and even at £3 a bottle, a round with a pint of Dark Mild will be less than a fiver. Picture of poster taken on the QT. Nice innit? And no. I didn't ask Mr Smith for a selfie, but he must have been pleased at the efficacy of his prohibition of swearing. I didn't hear a single profanity.
I may have mentioned it before but Sam Smith's, through its takeover of Rochdale and Manor Brewery, have a lot of pubs in my area. They also, in common with Sam's elsewhere, have a lot of closed pubs, with the usual sign in the windows "Management Couple Wanted - Live In". Thus was my plan to visit the Yew Tree, a fine and imposing pub between Rochdale and Royton thwarted. The pub was closed, awaiting the next hopefuls.
But you are never too far away from a Sam's boozer, so I went back towards Royton to one which is well known to me - it is in fact probably the closest equal pub to my local the Tandle Hill Tavern - but is in the opposite direction for Tandleman Towers. So, oddly, despite my thirty odd years in the area - and knowing many who go there, I've never set foot in the place. Time to rectify this oversight.
The pub, The Pleasant, is on a main road, a rather modern looking building in a residential row. Pretty ordinary really. As I approached at teatime in pissing rain, a fellow imbiber entered with me. At least I wouldn't be on my own. To my left a door said "Lounge" and right another said "Snug". My companion turned right and I glimpsed a pool table. Hmm. I don't think I've ever seen a pool table in a Sam's pub. I thought Humphrey scorned all forms of entertainment for the masses, but there it was. "How odd" I thought, turning left into the lounge.
A rather bare, but comfortable room greeted me. A sole drinker sat reading a newspaper, glancing up and nodding to me. The room was served by the same bar as the snug, in which I could see four workers in various degrees of highvizness, overalls and whatnot, bantering cheerily. So not that busy then, though I do know Sundays are popular. I should have gone then probably. Still we have to work with what we've got. The woman serving me remarked on the unseasonality of the weather - and being British and knowing the correct style of response, I agreed, adding for good measure some disparaging remarks about the quality of the summer we've just had. So all was well. My pint of Sam's Light Mild (perhaps a little sharp) was a mere £1.34. Looking round there was the usual number of prohibitions on the wall. No effing and jeffing, no phones, laptops or downloading music (why?) and a reminder of how long you had to sup up at closing time. This seems a somewhat repetitive obsession of Messrs Smith, but there you go. At least you know where you are. Beers were Light Mild, Taddy Bitter, Old Brewery Bitter, Alpine and Taddy Lagers. The famous half Alpine, half Taddy was the choice of my sole companion. The lads in the snug were all on lager too, though of what mix, I couldn't tell.
Then horror on horrors. A mobile phone rang in the bar and in hushed tones, after exchanging endearments with his/someone else's wife/girlfriend or whatever, the callee, said words to the effect of "I have to go. I'm in The Pleasant and mobiles aren't allowed." Seems Humph has put the fear of God into his customers on that one. Less so on the effing and jeffing I'd suggest, but all of it was in the context of fitting bathrooms, exchanges about how the day had gone and so on, so to my mind at least, harmless enough. One lad called through to me saying that he didn't care ("couldn't give a fuck") about Humph's rules. Sooner or later he'd shut the pub anyway, like he had the Yew Tree he observed. "Aha" I thought. "I could have saved a journey here."
My pint was finished, so bidding goodbye to my sole companion in the lounge and shouting a farewell to the denizens of the snug, which was answered by all, I left in the (still) teeming rain.
Pleasant in the Pleasant? Certainly. I hope Humph doesn't shut it.
I must go on a Sunday and see what it is like. It would, like most pubs, be better full I'm sure, but I quite like the bare 70s look. Sorry about the photos which reflect the gloominess of the day.
No evidence of any Sam's bottles were seen. Just a fridge full of various Scintilla soft drinks.
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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