Saturday, 28 March 2020

Beer(s) of the Week

Welcome to another revived feature here at JC's Beer Blog. Previously I tended to look at just Dutch, and sometimes Belgian, beers.  I plan to be a bit more wide ranging this time. And so we have...

A Tale of Two Beers

Here they are. Two imperial stouts, one from 2016 the other from 2017, and both rather different. 

The Marble Portent of Usher is silent about almost everything. The bottle is entirely unadorned while the cardboard label just tells you it's 9% and the beer  should be stored 'upright, cool but not chilled."  

The barrel aged Night Drift from Brussels Beer Project has a fancy plastic label giving the impression the details have been printed onto the glass. It's a little more forthcoming, advising it's 9.9% and is a: "Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Imperial Stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels". Anyone playing Craft Beer Bingo would be well on the way to 'house' with that lot.  

Additionally you are advised the beer: "Se bonifie avec l'age" which, I guess you don't really need telling, translates as "improves with age".  

So, how do they compare? I'm not going to tell you anything about Marble Brewery in Manchester as I'm guessing many readers will be familiar with them. Suffice it to say they have a long-established reputation for making the highest quality beers across a whole range of styles.  This beer was devised by former Head Brewer James Kemp (known to everyone as 'JK') who produced a series of potent beers, many of which were subsequently barrel-aged.

The brewery website tells you this:

Portent of Usher is brewed in celebration of Edgar Allen Poe by Marble Brewery, Manchester. Originally brewed in 2016 this beer has since been awarded a Gold Medal in the International Beer Challenge. This rich, opaque beer goes heavy on the bitter dark roast coffee and treacle notes whilst maintaining sweet blackcurrant and cola bottle subtleties.

And do you know? It still performs as good as ever.  Over the years everything has perhaps blended a bit more to produce a rich, boozy and elegant beer. There's the roast, the coffee and, yes, just a hint of residual background sweetness to add some balance at the end. Glorious.

Moving on we come to Night Drift from Brussels Beer Project.  I'm going to duck out from going on at length about BBP. They have been around since 2015 and most of their beer is commissioned from Brouwerij Anders (which is another Belgian contract brewing specialist). However, their own facility in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht is apparently in the pipeline.  In the meantime they have a small kit at their taproom  in central Brussels (188 Rue Antoine Dansaert). You can find out more on their lively website here.

Night Drift was brewed in collaboration with Basque brewers Laugar as a 'straightforward' Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Imperial Stout, and this is the subsequent barrel-aged version. It was bottled on 6 November 2017.To be honest, I approached this with reasonably high expectations but was ultimately disappointed. I'm not sure for how long it was supposed to improve with age but I think we've now passed the cut-off point. What I expected to be deep, rich and luxurious was in fact surprisingly light-bodied, slightly too heavily carbonated, and too heavy on the cola notes.

Conclusions? Marble's brilliantly crafted, straight down the line, no bells, no whistles classic still drinks superbly - and has a few more years to run, I think. On the other hand the numerous additions courtesy of BBP and Laugar seem to have fought to the death in the bottle and have simply exhausted themselves. Ultimately the message is, I think - 'keep it simple and you can't go wrong'.




Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Beermat of the Week

Butterknowle Brewery

Welcome to a new mid-week feature here at JC's Beer Blog. 

When I was still at work a colleague who was about to retire presented me with a box full of old beer mats he'd collected over the years. When I retired in 2018 I brought them home with me and have only just had a proper look at them.  There are some real relics in there and each has a story to tell so I thought I'd select one each week and relate the story of the brewery and the beer.

I'm guessing most people reading this won't have heard of Butterknowle Brewery but in their day some quite significant beers were produced. The brewery was set up in August 1990 by John Constable and was based in the old buildings of the Lynesack National School near Butterknowle in County Durham. These buildings dated from 1852 and had been disused for 30 years.

The brewing kit, with a capacity of 100 barrels a week, came from the defunct New Forest Brewery which had closed in 1988 and the brewery was opened by 'celebrity botanist' David Bellamy.

The brewery was an immediate success and won awards from beer festivals across the UK. Just two years after setting up, Butterknowle beers came runner-up in both the Bitter and Best Bitter categories at the 1992 Great British Beer Festival. Banner Bitter also went on to win Gold in the Best Bitter category at the 1996 GBBF. 

A bottling line was installed in 1995  and a visitors centre opened in the old infants' classroom. By 1997 around 150 outlets were supplied nationwide, both directly or via wholesalers. Then it all came to a halt and the brewery closed in 1998.

What was significant about Butterknowle beers was level of hopping. Conciliation Ale (4.2%), mentioned on the beer mat, was the flagship brew described in the 1993 Good Beer Guide as:

"..a full flavoured premium ale, well-hopped in both aroma and palate. Flowery and piquant."

You got more of the same in the potent High Force (6.2%). And there's the rub. This was the time was Brendan Dobbin was making waves with his West Coast Brewery in Manchester while, over in Harrogate, Sean Franklin was doing the same with Roosters. Butterknowle beers were up there with them (I know, I was drinking them at the time) with a reputation for powerful, floral hop character. However, while West Coast and Roosters beers have become the stuff of legend, Butterknowle has passed into obscurity. Hopefully this post may, in some small way, start to put the record straight.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Back Again

A little light reading

As CAMRA is in hibernation for a few months this seems like a good time to re-start this blog - last in action in January 2019. Expect the usual mix of beer reviews (I've got plenty to get through), a re-run of some old Pub Crawls from the around 30 years ago, plus one or two other things I have in mind.

I hope you enjoy this - it should at least pass some of the time until normal service is resumed. I hope that by then I'll also have got into the blogging habit again so will be able to keep it going.

So, without further ado..... 

This Stagger appeared in the December 1988 issue of Opening Times. It was written by Robin Wignall, who sadly died in 2018.

The Shaw Heath Shuffle

A few months ago I wrote to Opening Times asking for positive reporting by Stagger correspondents. The King St West and Shaw Heath Stagger landed me with the  opportunity of putting this into practice.

The Comfortable Gill on King St West was our first visit. This is a busy town centre pub across the road from the bus depot. The mock-Tudor decor gives a fairly pleasant interior, though the low ceiling can accentuate the juke box music. The Comfy has a thriving darts and crib team. On our visit we considered the beer to be on good form, though one member has an idiosyncratic dislike of Boddingtons. Both mild and bitter, on electric pumps were considered to be good to very good by the rest of the group.

Leaving the Comfy Gill we had the short walk up King St West to the Olde Vic, passing en route John Smiths' Tom Thumbs. This unfortunately remains all keg, which is a pity as John Smiths cask conditioned bitter is a palatable pint.

Once a part of the Watney-Wilson empire, Ye Olde Vic is now a free house which has acquired a growing reputation since Kay Ord became landlady and deservedly won the branch Pub of the Year award for 1987. A good array of real ale is maintained in this popular pub. From a personal point of view I think I preferred the bar and darts room of previous days, however the present interior is quite pleasant and the beer of course is a vast improvement. On our visit Taylor's Landlord, Wadworth's 6X, Marston's Pedigree and Tetley Bitter were available. Our company, now into double figures, felt the Wadworths to be good and the Taylor's to be well above average.

A little further up the hill stands Wilsons Blue Bell, an architecturally imposing building dating from 1898. A previously multi-roomed pub, the Blue Bell has been fairly tastefully opened out, and has retained a darts and pool room. Original decorative tiling remains in the entrance hall whilst the lounge seems to have been recently reupholstered. Wilsons mild and bitter plus Websters bitter are served on electric pumps, which seems odd as on one side of the bar a bank of handpumps stands idle. On our visit the mild was scored at average and the bitter generally above average.

Just round the corner is Boddingtons Greyhound, a 60 year old pub which underwent major alterations in the 1950s. It now boasts 2 rooms and a vault. Decoration is quite acceptable, if perhaps a little 'all beams and brass'. There us a prominent price list on the customer side of the bar and the beer also recommends itself. On our visit both mild and bitter were considered to be well above average and into the good category.

Across the road stands Robinson's Church. With calls so close together there is hardly distance enough to develop a stagger. The Church has been much altered, but retains rooms with separate identities with darts and pool available. This is to my mind a better piece of 'Robinsonisation' and in the opinion of some members the Church has benefited from the alteration - the brick pillar on the way to the gents looked a bit out of place though. Best Mild and Best Bitter are served on electric pumps and Old Tom is on handpump. The bitter was scored generally above average and good, if cold. The mild also scored above average though the Old Tom could have been better.

Negotiating Edgeley roundabout we reached Robinson's Armoury, a multi-roomed pub which has largely retained the character of a local. On our visit the pub was obviously very popular, perhaps because it has not been knocked around. The group felt the Best Mild to be generally above average and the Best Bitter to be better than that.

Next door is Wilson's Swan, another busy two-roomed local, whose popularity has survived alteration. A number of windows sport fine etched swans, and add to the pub's character. Darts and pool are available and there is an obvious price list. The Swan is a fairly recent gain to Real Ale, as prior to renovation it had served keg beer only. The Wilsons bitter was scored as average and above, but those who sampled the Websters in the interests of science were rather disappointed.

A stroll along Shaw Heath brought us to the Florist. This Robinson's pub is one of the local favourites, a fine multi-roomed pub with some superb etched windows. The Stagger ended here partly because of the high standard of the beer and partly because it was late anyway.  The Best Bitter  was slightly hazy but received very good scores for taste, which goes to show that we should drink with our mouths and not our eyes. The Best Mild was scored as good.

It has not been difficult to be positive in this article, as on the night we sampled generally decent beer in quite pleasant surroundings. Try the pubs for yourselves and make up your own minds.

What Happened Next? 

With so many pubs so close together there were bound to be some casualties - and time has not been kind to the pubs of the Shaw Heath area.

The Comfortable Gill is still with is as D&J's Comfortable Gill but sells no cask beer. Some time before this Stagger was written I dropped into the pub on a local CAMRA 'Monday Social' - and who should be sitting there but beer writer Michael Jackson, who attracted some funny looks as he dictated notes into his dictaphone.

Tom Thumbs did eventually sell cask John Smith's Bitter but to no avail. The pub closed in late 2005 and is now the Lost Monsoon, a well-regarded Indian restaurant.

Moving up the hill, Ye Olde Vic has had a couple of licensees since Kay Ord's time. The current incumbent, Steve Brannan, has been there for many years and is certainly a larger than life character. The pub itself was bought by a consortium of regulars a couple of years ago (disclosure - I own a couple of bricks and a slate) and has since undergone major investment. It's a regular in the Good Beer Guide with five of six cask beers on handpump.  During the enforced period of closure it's going to have a gentle redecoration.

The Blue Bell was sold into the free trade and for quite some time it sold Holt's Bitter. Its then owners also spent some time and money restoring what remained of the original features. This was not enough to save it, though, and the pub closed in late 2002. It's now been converted into flats.

There was something of a golden age at the Greyhound in the years after this Stagger was written. Irene Morris made the pub very much her own, selling a range of guest beers (once Boddingtons became the Boddington Pub Co) and earning a regular place in the Good Beer Guide. It was pretty much downhill all the way after Irene retired. It finally closed in April 2013 and is now residential accommodation.

Across the road, the Church also entered a spiral of decline and attract a 'lively' crowd. A near riot in the pub in late 2007 saw it 'tinned up' and it, too, has been converted into flats.

The Armoury continues to thrive (and doubtless will again once it is able to reopen). Sheila Barlow is the long-running licensee and the pub is known for serving some of the best Robinsons beers in town. The pubs has been slightly opened out over the years but is still a popular multi-roomed pub. 

The Swan next door was a pub that I never had a decent pint in.  On one occasion a friend of mine found the nozzle off the handpump lying at the bottom of his glass! While the Stagger mentions a refurbishment, the pub had been knocked around before that. Irene Morris at the Greyhound once told me that this was the first place she and her ex-husband took over when entering the pub business in the 1960s - and they oversaw the knocking through of the original multi-roomed interior. The Swan ended its days as a Vaux pub (as shown by the sign that still remains on the side wall) but closed in autumn 2013 following a fire. It's now been converted to offices.

The Armoury and the former Swan are shown above - the dinky half-timbered building between them is a Grade II listed former NatWest bank.

When the Stagger called at the Florist, it was run by veteran licensee Alan Stanway (who, incidentally was born in the Church mentioned above). Of course Alan retired but his successor put time and effort into the pub which continued to do well. However there were subsequent changes of licensee and the pub finally closed its doors in January 2018. Once again, it's been converted into flats.


Wednesday, 9 January 2019

From the Archives

The Hillgate Crawl - December 1984 

This Stagger, down Stockport's Hillgate, appeared in the January 1985 issue of Opening Times. Written by me, it records what has today become the longest annual event in any CAMRA branch's calendar (probably...) - the most recent one was run on 21 December last year.

After many years on going uphill and finishing at the Blossoms, the 2018 event reverted back to its original downhill route. The reasons for this will become apparent in the update below. Anyway back in time we go.

The annual Christmas Crawl of Hillgate, Stockport, is a long-established feature of the CAMRA calendar, and for the first time it has been recorded in print. Be warned though that due to the increasing drunkenness of both the writer and the party, the scores in the later stages are not as accurate as they should be...

On the principle that it's easier to roll down than stagger up we kick off at the very top, on the A6 at the excellent Blossoms Hotel, this long-established Good Beer Guide pub can usually be relied on for a decent pint of Robbies and this was no exception, mild getting 2.6, bitter almost 3 (scored being 0 (undrinkable) to 4 (excellent)).

Across the road to the newly painted Wheatsheaf where Wilsons mild (2.5) was even better than the bitter(2). Next Robinsons Royal Mortar, a friendly lively pub with mild at 2.6 and bitter, 2.4, were both appreciated. Over the road and into Robinsons rather grotty Flying Dutchman (named after a race horse,
by the way, not the ship). It was rumoured that this pub was to be demolished and to be honest unless Robinsons are prepared to spend a lot of money here there doesn't seem to be much alternative. The mild, however, managed a respectable 2.5, the bitter, which at first was stuck in the pump, managed only 1.5. This was probably due to a pump malfunction as a later sampling produced a 3.

A word of warning now - the Bowling Green has usually been on the itinerary but it is now all keg.

Robinsons Star & Garter now and again the trend of better mild than bitter was continued with 2.75 and 2.6. Onto the Rams Head and Wilsons mild managed an average 2 but the bitter was by general consensus disgusting, although to be fair it got one score of 3 and another of 2.5. The night wore on and so did we into Wilsons Crown with mild at 2.6 and bitter 2.5. Over the road into the Golden Lion, serving Burtonwood beers, a rare brew for the area. Again mild was better than the bitter with 2.7 against 2.4.

Mild drinkers had so far had a better night of it but this was soon evened out by those who ventured into Whitbread Chesters awful Big Lamp. Three 0s and 0.1 say it all. The bitter wasn't bad (it was about as good a pint as you will get anywhere and got a respectable 2.25. Boddies next in the Black Lion, no mild here. The bitter scored 2.2, less that the two Chesters beers but again as good as you are likely to get. A sad comment on a once great beer.

A detour now to the Waterloo and the best mild score so far, 3.1. The bitter averaged a respectable 2.6. Up on to Hillgate and into the Red Bull, probably one of the more characterful Hillgate pubs with equally characterful beer, the score matching the Waterloo at 3.1 and 2.6. On the home straight and Tetleys in the Gladstone (the Sun & Castle is keg). The mild scored well 2.9, (good to see it back) but the bitter was a bit of a disappointment at only 2.2.

Robbies to finish with. First the Spread Eagle with, to be honest, not the beer you'd expect from the brewery tap, the mild managing only 1.8 and the bitter 2. But to be honest by that time no-one could taste much anyway - definitely worth a visit when sober. One further point - surely if Robinsons had real faith in their rare but excellent ordinary bitter they'd make sure it was sold in the brewery tap which is supposed to be a showpiece for the brewery and its beers.

Speaking of showpieces our final stop was the excellent Royal Oak on High St, the mild - 3.5, probably the best of the night, and bitter 2.9...I seem to remember drinking some Old Tom as well....

What happened next?

Hillgate used to be the main southern thoroughfare out of Stockport until Wellington Road (the main A6) was constructed in the 19th century. It was a hive of industrial activity too, with Christie's hatworks being  a major employer. Behind the shops and pubs lining the street were rows of terraced houses.

Much of the industry has gone. Some of the terraces remain and there are significant new housing developments either under construction or in the pipeline. Rather too late for most of the pubs though - and several closed in the 1950s through to the seventies

The Blossoms is still with us, of course, and has given its name to a popular beat group (who are playing a sold-out concert at Edgeley Park this summer). The pub has been significantly refurbished over the years but still retains many original features and a multi-roomed layout.

The Wheatsheaf is also open and trading. It's had various periods of closure over the years and ask beer has come and gone. Currently it's come in the form of Sharp's Atlantic while the pub seems reasonably settled.

The Royal Mortar was an early closure by Robinsons (apparently after some sort of dispute with the licensees who seemed to be doing well) and shut its doors in 2004. It looked very sorry for itself for several years and has now been converted to other use. 
The former Fairway

Robinsons did indeed demolish and then rebuild the Flying Dutchman. After a chequered existence they eventually sold it off but its days as a pub weren't over.   It was bought by experienced licensees who reopened it as the Fairway after a significant investment in the building. It traded very well for several years until, to general surprise, it closed quite suddenly early last year, having been sold for conversion to offices.

The Bowling Green became a free house and sold cask beers for several years before closing in October 2011. It remained derelict for some time before being converted to other use in 2014. 

The Star & Garter remains open and trading, but is one of the few Robinsons pubs that does not offer cask beer. Rumours of its demise surface from time to time but the pub soldiers on. That's more than can be said for the Ram's Head. The pub, with the old Daniel Clifton Royal Oak
brewery behind it, was an interesting place - it looked to have been refitted in the 1950s and had a very smart interior with much wood panelling. The beer was never very good. It closed in 1987 and has been put to a number of uses since - and is currently an Indian restaurant. The old brewery, which finally closed in 1959 after being leased by Whitbread, has been converted into flats.

The Crown is still open and trading but sells no cask beer.  The Golden Lion closed in 2005 and has been converetd to offices. The Big Lamp, originally the Pack Horse, underwent several incarnations but closed as a pub around the turn of the century. 

The next pub down is the Sun & Castle which gets a passing mention in the original article. It was rebuilt by the old Walker's Brewery in the 1920s and for many years kept a pretty much unspoiled period interior. A Tetley pub, it eventually converted to cask beer. It was then sold on to Holts who carried out a significant refurbishment. This included the installation of an very impressive, but rather out of place, 19th century bar back. Some internal partitions were also removed. Having said that it's bedded in well over the years and is a thriving community local.

The Black Lion, with some rather good Richard Clarke brewery etched glass (and even a Richard Clarke doormat for many years!), closed in late 2005. It's been converted to other use. The wooded ceiling in the vault was a notable feature I recall.

The Waterloo lasted longer than many of the other pubs
The Waterloo
and closed its doors in August 2016.  The building remains disused. The Red Bull is still very much open, having received a significant investment by Robinsons. The refurbishment included knocking through to a next door cottage and the removal of a bottleneck at the bar. While it's still an interesting pub some of the old character has been sacrificed. 

The Gladstone, run for many years by the fearsome Jessie Holehouse, who was born in the pub sometime in the 1920s, had many heritage features and ended up in Burtonwoods's hands.  Renamed the Bishop Blaize, it sold some very decent cask ale. The pub closed in April 2011 and has been converted into offices.

Robinsons closed their brewery tap, the Spread
Spread Eagle today
, in September 2007 and incorporated it into the brewery offices. Across the road, the Royal Oak, a pub of enormous character, was effectively rebuilt by Robinsons (it sort of fell down while they were carrying out a refurbishment)  in a particularly featureless way. A succession of licensees, and some truly terrible beer, didn't help. The pub closed in late 2011 and was sold early 2012. It's now been converted into residential accommodation.

The former Royal Oak

That's not quite the end of the story.  Further down Hillgate, where it becomes Underbank, you will come to the historic Queen's Head (often called Turner's Vaults). Back in 1984 this was still owned by the Turner family and sold keg Younger's Scotch Bitter. It's now owned by Sam Smiths who carried out a major restoration and it sells Old Brewery Bitter.  Just before you get there, on the other side of the road, Holts acquired a former jewellers shop and turned it into Winters. Early promise was not fulfilled and on the Hillagte Stagger it was often full of dancing drunks. Holts sold it to Stockport Council and it closed early 2018. There are plans to reopen it as a restaurant.

As I indicated at the start of this long piece, the Hillgate Stagger went up the hill for many years but such was the dearth of pubs this time, it reverted back to the original down hill format - continuing into Stockport Market Place where, amongst other pubs, we revisited the Angel Inn which has reopened after closing back in 1951.

I think the most interesting thing about all of this is that despite the many
closures, all of these pubs are still standing. Indeed as a bonus, just across the road from the Black Lion is the very long-closed Land O'Cakes (pictured above) which retains some good timing and a rather nice mosaic in the entrance. 

There's some historic information about of few of the pubs mentioned (as well as sveral other defunct Stockport pubs) here

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Dutch Beer of the Week

Brouwerij Stilj and Crans Craft Beer Robust Irish Coffee Porter

I started writing this post at the end of November but was then sidetracked by work on the Jan/Feb issue of Opening Times, the CAMRA magazine I edit. After immersion in that, Christmas came along and I was distracted by various events involving food and drink. So here we are again and back to the beer.

The name's a mouthful isn't it? So is the beer but we'll come to that in a minute.

This is a collaboration between two brewers new to me and, I first thought, two brewers who don't have their own breweries. Stijl does in fact have a small kit but larger runs are made elsewhere - mainly at Berging Brouwerij, who I have heard of and who brewed this particular beer  It's all very complicated isn't it?

So, let's start with Brouwerij Stijl.  It's based in Almere, which is roughly north-east of Amsterdam in Flevoland province, and started up in early 2016. The people behind Stijl (which, fairly obviously means 'style') are husband and wife team Raymond Geraads and Anneke Geraad-Broeren.  Raymond, who has a background in aviation, is the head brewer and recipe developer. Anneke is the creative mind responsible for designs, social media and also some brewing at the Stijl 'Brewlab'.

Crans Craft Beer is described as a 'nano contract brewer' and is also based in Almere. The brewer is teacher Jan Ronald Crans, also know as De Biermeerster (The Beermaster). You can read all about him and his beers here

So, now to the beer. It's 8% and includes both wheat and barley malt. Nothing unusual there. It was then aged for six  months on oak chips that had been soaked in Connemara whiskey - with some coffee extract added for good measure.

As you may expect it pours a deep dark brown with an appealing light tan head.  The nose has coffee and whisky notes along with a touch of peat there too.  There's a touch of malt sweetness as you drink along with roast, coffee and also touches of dried fruit too. There's a decent body to this beer without it being too heavy. A growing bitterness develops as you reach the finishing line.

I must say I rather enjoyed this - everything comes together very well to make for a satisfying rounded beer.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

From the Archives

Hyde Road - November 1984

My archive doesn't include the November 1988 issue of Opening Times so we are off back to November 1984. That wasn't long after Opening Times had been launched and this was issue six.

It hadn't settled down by the then so the Staggers were called 'Around in the Town'. You will also note the rather primitive appearance of the magazine (if you can call it that).  At the time it was produced on a duplicator - if you Google that today you'll be pointed in the direction of a whizzy bit of kit but back then it was rather different. Each page was typed out (on a typewriter) onto a stencil and then it was more or less hand-cranked. The finished effort (this one ran to six pages) was distributed as an insert in something called What's Doing - a magazine produced by the former North Manchester branch of CAMRA and which at one time had regional aspirations. 

The eagle-eyed will also note the advert for Sykes Wine Bar at the George in Stockport's Mersey Square which offered Higsons Mild and Bitter plus Draught Bass.

This article was written by Malcolm Swallow - who is now happily married and living in British Columbia. He still gets a regular copy of Opening Times. Here we go:

Curiously, the Hyde Road Pub Crawl started out at the massive Wilsons pub, the Waggon & Horses, Stockport Road/Plymouth Grove. A fortunate idea since Mild scored 3.7 (scores are from 0, undrinkable, to 4, excellent) the best score of the evening.  The rather cool Bitter scored 2.4. No price list evident but at 63p the mild was also the most expensive of the evening, the bitter was 64p.

Down Kirkmanshulme Lane we eagerly headed for the Longsight Inn and the Banks's beer. Unfortunately the mild, at 57p, was very cold and tasteless and scored only 1.1. The bitter at 60p was slightly better and managed 2.

We wandered around Belle Vue Speedway Stadium and into the Rock Inn on Hyde Road. A recently renovated Tetleys pub, the beer was good with mild at 62p scoring 3.5 and the bitter, 64p, 3.1.

Down Hyde Road towards Manchester we called in at the basic Boddingtons pub the Nags Head. No mild available but the bitter tasted pretty good and scored 2.9 - almost worth the 62p price tag!

The Travellers Rest was next on the list - a recently painted Hydes house; but the beers were disappointing. The mild at 56p scored 1.8 and the bitter, 62p, managed 2.4.

Another Boddingtons pub, the Unicorn Hotel, also only sold Bitter. It was 2p cheaper that the Nags but scored only 2.4. However it is obviously a popular local, so much so that we had to stand outside to drink.

A swift stop at the Horseshoe Inn found Robinsons Bitter (63p) in slightly above average form with a score of 2.5. Unfortunately the mild was so bad as to prove undrinkable and scored 0. 

The City Gates is a large open-plan Chesters pub done out in Man. City colours. No real mild but the handpumped bitter was better than expected and scored 2.3, costing 63p.

As the evening was coming to an end we headed down Devonshire Street North in to the Greenall's pub, the Kings Head. Again no real mild was available but the bitter at 66p (the most expensive of the evening)managed the best bitter score with 3.3.

To finish the evening, we hurried down Ashton Old Road to the excellent Holts pub - the Seven Stars. The mild at 55p was cheapest of the evening but only scored 1.8. The bitter was 56p, was also the cheapest, it also tasted pretty good and scored 2.9.

A summary of the evening reveals that the bitters scored between 2 and 3.3, a fairly consistent set of marks. Whist real mild was sold in only 6 out of the 10 pubs visited the scored varied between 0 and 3.7. Enough said!!

A note on beer scoring 

You will see from the text that all the beers were given a score. This was well before CAMRA's National Beer Scoring System came into operation but the old South Manchester Branch (now Stockport & South Manchester) was an early adopter of using beer scores to select pubs for the Good Beer Guide. 

Scores are still recorded on the monthly Staggers but no longer appear in Opening Times. This was stopped quite early on when a local newspaper correlated the scores from one Stagger and published "CAMRA's League Table of Local Pubs". Ructions ensued.

What happened next

I think carnage is as good a word as any here.

The Waggon & Horses (which also sold handpumped Bulmers cider on my one and only visit) was a a very early casualty. A large half-timbered effect building it closed in the late 1980s - it appeared in a local CAMRA guide published in 1989 - and was knocked down (overnight apparently!) around 1992.  A block of flats now occupies the site.

The Longsight was on Redgate Lane and formed part of one of the entrance gates to the old Belle Vue.  It was a ramshackle old place and was essentially bought by Wolverhampton-based Banks's for the licence  in late 1983. The pub was demolished in 1985 and a replacement built around the corner on Kirkmanshulme Lane. That too has gone. The tale of Banks's utterly disastrous 1980s foray into Manchester will in fact be covered by a Stagger next year.

The Rock Inn, a great little Tetley house with much speedway memorabilia, was pretty much opposite the entrance to the old stadium. Famous for extensive 'lates' or "nights when time seemed to stand still" as one friend of mine put it, the pub closed in the late 1980s. It was located on the corner of Boundary Street and Hyde Road so its site is easily located (shown left).

The Nags Head closed in 2009 but the building still remains as a convenience store. The Travellers Call (not Travellers Rest as recorded in the article) remains open for business which is something of a minor miracle. As you may see from the photo in the main piece it's no longer a Hydes house - and no longer sells cask beer. Nonetheless its survival is to be celebrated.

The Unicorn was notable for retaining its old skyboards along the roof for many years- once commonplace on many pubs they have now largely disappeared. The pub has disappeared too and, such has been the scale of redevelopment down this part of Hyde Road, it is very difficult to pinpoint the exact location.  The same applies to Robinsons Horse Shoe (sic) a pub standing in splendid isolation and at one time unusual for selling their 'ordinary' bitter. I suspect both were located somewhere along the stretch of road seen left.

Passing under the main railway line, the stretch of Hyde Road running down to the Devonshire Street junction for many years featured two large, derelict pubs. One was the Bulls Head and the other the Hyde Road Hotel which ended its days as the City Gates, a shrine to all things Manchester City (the club's original ground was just behind the pub). The football fans couldn't save it and the pub closed in 1989. After that it stood rotting for about 12 years until the wrecking ball came calling.  There has been some debate on various online forums abut the exact site of the City Gates but I suspect the stone blocks seen here may be its last earthly remains.

The King's Head was closed by Greenalls but it then reopened as a free house which did reasonable well in the 1990s and beyond. It finally closed in 2008 and again lay derelict for many years until its demolition in August last year. Here's the site.

And finally - the Seven Stars.  This was a classic pub in its day and when I first called there the interior may well have gained it a place on CAMRA's National
Inventory of Heritage Pubs. Holts then had a rush of blood to the head and built an entirely pointless extension which seemed to knock all the life out of the place.  Holts ran it as some sort of arms length operation but it finally closed in 2009 and has now been converted to a wholesale and retail seller of live (live!) seafood - so if you want a lobster for your dinner that's where to go.  The pub still retains many external featured and even the extension has had a sympathetic extension!


Thursday, 15 November 2018

Dutch Beer of the Week

Big Belly Brewing Jerommeke

Getting back into a routine here at JC's Beer Blog, we welcome back another regular feature.

As usual my annual visit to the Borefts Beer Festival at Bodegraven also involved buying various bottles to bring home. However, and unlike most visitors. my purchases were not made at the shop run by Brouwerij De Molen (the festival hosts). There, choice and expensive imports were on offer for the international beer geek crowd. Those of us with an interest in Dutch beers have somewhere else in our sights.

Just down the road from the windmill housing the De Molen shop is Jan Kraan's Speciaal Bierwinkel - a veritable treasure trove of beers from obscure Dutch breweries. He also sells a range of his own 'Kraanwater' beers (a neat play on words as 'kraan' is Dutch for tap) which, to be honest, can be something of a mixed bag. I picked up an armful of beers that sounded interesting and were from brewers I'd never heard of. So here we go.

Big Belly is a cuckoo brewery based in Breda and has been around a couple of years now. The beers have either been made at Brouwerij Frontaal or on the larger facility at INBier in Sittard (a new one on me but they appear to be contract brewers along the lines of  Proef in Belgium). There is no working website I can find but the informative Facebook page is here. As you can see a number of beers have been produced and have been generally well-received. The people behind it are Tom Hensen, Remco Franssens and Willem Graste but I confess to knowing little about their background - they do, though, claim to test brew everything three times to make sure they get it right. I can think of several brewers who could usefully adopt that approach. I must say I also rather like their mission statement:

We focus on the good side of life! A little belly never hurt nobody, so eat, drink & enjoy yourself!

So, to the beer in hand. It's described as a gin saison and the entertaining blurb on the label ("Jerommeke is what you call a modern day superhero...") also tells us that the beer contains lemon peel and juniper berries. It's also 6.7% which is perhaps a little top-heavy for the style but it's none the worse for it.

There's a high level of carbonation - perhaps a little too high as this does sometimes detract from what I found to be a very enjoyable beer. There's clean spice on the nose with some herbal and citrus notes - as you may expect from the description. The juniper and lemon are there in supporting roles as you drink, too - and these lead to quinine notes and a long finish with touches of juniper and citrus all the way. My final notes was "gin and tonic meets beer" - I've had a few beers which make this claim but this is the first one that's really pulled it off. I'll be trying more Big Belly beers if I find them.