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.



Monday, 5 November 2018

From the Archives

East Didsbury & Heaton Mersey - October 1988

You lucky people are getting two Staggers this month as I catch up here at JC's Beer Blog.

This one was written by Ian Saunders and covers a more prosperous part of the Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA branch area -  indeed all of the pubs covered here are still open and trading (but wait until you see what the November Stagger has in store).

Here we go...

This month's Stagger, of East Didsbury and Heaton Mersey, was a rather more leisurely tour than of late, but it gave us the chance to appreciate the good pubs all the more. 

We met in the Parrswood on School Lane. This 1930s pub has a large lounge and smaller vault with a separate entrance plus another room where, unusually for a pub, snooker can be played (albeit on a  'pool'sized' table). We are told that the pub is due for refurbishment but are hopeful that the character will not suffer. The beers available were Boddington's Mild and Bitter on electric pump. The bitter was above average, the mild rather less so.

The longest walk of the evening followed to the Gateway on the main A34. This is Hydes' largest pub and it has recently been quite radically refurbished and is now brighter, plusher but features rather annoying, rotating "disco" balls sat in central pillars. Disco "rope" lights adorn the step up to the raised drinking area by the front window where there is now a large white piano. Our attention was also caught by a poster on the wall advertising a variety of take-away curries! Is East Didsbury becoming the second curry centre of Manchester after Rusholme, with the Good Curry Guide listed Khandoker restaurant only over the road? Well, perhaps not.

The beers are Hydes Mild and Bitter on electric pumps. The bitter was thought to be good and the mild above average, although one of our party complained that the mild tasted "cabbagey" - not a patch on the bitter, eh?

Next, up, Didsbury Road into Heaton Mersey and the Mersey Vale. This pub has changed quite dramatically since it was called the Dog & Partridge. Formerly dark, dismal and infrequently visited, it has now been spruced up in Typical Boddingtons style and is a pleasant place for a pint. It is a shame, though, that the pub is a clone for other recent Boddingtons conversions. There is a comfy raised seating area at the back of the pub around the corner from the bar and a pool table where the vault used to be. The beer is Boddingtons Mild and Bitter on handpump and both were considered to be well above average on our visit.

A short uphill walk brought us to the Griffin, a traditional multi-roomed pub complete with a superb wood and etched glass bar. An absolute gem, this, and recent decoration has only improved the place - there are new carpets in the side rooms and plush curtains. The atmosphere was as warm and welcoming as ever - that, and the excellent Holts Mild and Bitter on handpump encouraged us to stay for a while longer.

Eventually we tore ourselves away and headed up towards the Railway where, in contrast to the Griffin, we spent our shortest stay of the evening. This Chef & Brewer house
features the "trendy" decor that is designed to attract the younger drinker. They even cater for those not old enough to drink - there was a sign advertising "Fun Freebies for Kids" which on closer examination turned out to be a paper jigsaw puzzle. The open-plan layout and the furnishings are fairly typical for this type of place whilst not being too over the top as in the Open House type pubs. The Railway offered the widest choice of real ales of the evening in Wilsons Bitter, Websters Bitter and Choice (although sadly no mild). The Wilsons Bitter was marginally above average and the Choice was considered slightly better than this. Only one brave stalwart tried the Websters and it was not to his liking, he said it tasted like hard tap water.

Finally on to the Crown which is set back from Didsbury Road with the entrance actually on Vale Road. This comfy, two-roomed pub has recently been Robinsonised in the manner we have all come to know and loathe. However, it is not the worst job Robbies have ever done. The pub used to get so packed you could hardly move, and therefore it has been extended to give a little more breathing room. An extra bar has been installed in the side room - the standard Robbies fittings are here too including the "Robbies Bannister" to separate sections of the rooms.

There was obviously a small amount of work still to be done as one of the new areas where we sat had no carpet or light shades. The pub didn't seem to have lost its popularity - it was packed as usual. The beers (Robinsons Best Mild and Best Bitter on electrics) were generally thought to be on good form with the mild scoring slightly higher than the bitter, making it the best mild of the night (just pipping Holts to the post).

As ever the opinions and comments simply reflect the opinions of those present on the night - why not try this crawl yourselves and make up your own minds.

The Beers

Let's just consider the beers on offer here. Six pubs with 11 beers between them - and all bar one selling mild. We had mild and bitter from Boddingtons, Hydes, Holts and Robinsons together with Wilsons Bitter, Websters Bitter and Websters Choice (which was a new-ish premium bitter).Six of those beers no longer exist - the two from Boddingtons, Robinsons Best Mild and the Wilsons and Webster brews. Hydes mild and bitter are now 'Original' and 'Old Indie' while Robinsons Best Bitter is now 'Unicorn'. Holts mild and bitter are... still Holts mild and bitter!

What Happened Next?

Perhaps uniquely on these Staggers, 30 years on and all of the pubs are still open and trading - although four out of the six have changed hands.

After the self-immolation of Boddingtons (and then the short-lived Boddington Pub Co - which actually had its head office upstairs here) the Parrswood fell into the hands of various pub companies until it was acquired by JW Lees in December 2014. In the summer on 2015 the pub underwent a major refurbishment (at a reported cost of over £1 million) which saw it largely opened out and renamed the Parrs Wood. It now has Lees Bitter, MPA and a seasonal on the pumps.

Hydes struggled to make the Gateway work for them and in 2011 sold it to Wetherspoons. Given that it has always been a pub, it's one of the few Spoons that feels properly pubby, despite its size, and the presence of a long-running and genuinely enthusiastic manager has almost certainly helped too.  Oh, and the Khandoker is still open across the road.

The Mersey Vale is now back as the Dog & Partridge and owned by Star Pubs & Bars (Heineken to its friends). It was last refurbished in 2017 (there have been several over the years) and seems to have bedded in well under new licensees. Last time I looked Hobgoblin and Wainwright were the two cask beers.

The Griffin was successfully extended by Holts but retains much of its old character. Some of the managers in recent years have been less than successful but the latest is keen and committed - and also re-introduced cask mild, something of a rarity in Holts pubs these days.

The Railway again fell into pub company hands but, renamed the Frog & Railway, ended up in Greene King's ownership. It struggled to succeed and in  December 2016 it, too, was bought by JW Lees. This year it underwent a major refurbishment and became the Heaton and is an altogether better pub. There's an emphasis on dining but if you just want to drink that's not problem - Lees Bitter, MPA and a seasonal await.

The Crown's much criticised refurbishment has bedded in well over the years and it remains an excellent local.  The long-serving licensee is retiring so we await developments. Cask beers when last visited were Robinsons Wizard, Dizzy Blonde, Unicorn and a seasonal.

I suppose it's down to location and demogrphics to explain why all of theses pubs have not only survived but all appear to do pretty well. The next Stagger (which dates from November 1984 as I don't have November 1988 in my archive) tells a very different story.


Thursday, 1 November 2018

Going Wild in Nijmegen

It seems an age now but it was only September when I spent six nights in Amsterdam. The main focus of the trip was the Borefts Bier Festival at Bodegraven but the extra days made it possible to do a little more travelling around.

In fact I only had one serious day out but it was a bit of a belter. I'd been to Nijmegen before but, like many places in the Netherlands, the beer scene has been transformed in recent years.

The largest city in Gelderland province, Nijmegen is about an hour and twenty minutes on the train from Amsterdam so is easily do-able for a day trip. It would probably repay an overnight stay as there is quite a bit to see - as you might expect from what is the oldest city in the Netherlands which celebrated its 2,000th birthday in 2005. 

The tourist office has a handy city tour walking guide which will take you round most of the sites ending up at the few remains of the Valkhof, a monumental castle-cum-palace built by Charlemagne and largely demolished by the city authorities in 1796 - two chapels remain.  In fact much of the city is quite new as it was badly bombed by American planes in 1944 - in error, as they thought they were over Germany at the time - so many of the 'old' buildings are in fact expert reconstructions. The cramped, and historic, housing of the Old Town survived the war but was demolished by the city council (which clearly has historic form here) in the 1960s.

Part way round the walk you'll come to the Stadsbrouwerij de Hemel , one of the oldest brewpubs in the country, having been founded in 1983. Located in a 12th Century cloister and comprising brewery, museum and cafe, it's a pleasant place to loiter for lunch and the beers are solidly well-made.  While you are there you may consider picking up bottles of the barley wine Nieuw Ligt and its barrel-aged companion Grand Cru. Later on, check out the 16th century Brouwershuys (Brewers' House) on Steen Straat.

Once that's all out of the way it's down to business. Apart from de Hemel (and anoher very small operation, I am told), Nijmegen is home to two of the most interesting breweries in the Netherlands. These are Oersoep  and  Nevel Artisan Ales - both have taps attached so a visit is well worthwhile.  The Oersoep tap, Stoom, is the longest established and has its own website here .

I've known Oersoep owners Sander Kobes and Kick van Hout (picured above) for some time and a conversation with Sander in August (at the excellent Van Moll Fest in Eindhoven) led to my invitation to visit.  

Getting there involves a trip into suburbia. Catch the no. 5 bus (in the direction of Tiberiuslann) and get off at Merwedestraat. The best place to catch the bus is probably Centraal Station although I picked it up on Nassausingel not far from the tourist information.  Once you've got off, stay on the same side of the road and walk in the same direction as the bus until you come to Dijkstraat on the right.  Go to the end, walk up the small flight of steps and across the road you'll see the large  Honigcomplex - a disused food factory. Turn right, go right round the back and keep on - you'll come to a number of independent businesses among which is Oersoep and its Stoom cafe (the actual address of the brewery is Waalbandijk 14D).

Oersoep (which translates at Primordial Soup!) was founded in 2012 and moved to its current location in early 2014. Since then the brewery has expanded considerably and Sander now heads up a brew team comprising Danny Smink, Maarten Niekus and Etienne Maris, and most of whom were busy around the brewery as I went round.

I was surprised at how large the brewery is but there's a lot going on here -they even mill their own malt (sourced from Fawcetts here in the UK and Weyerman). It's also a brewery of two halves.

The 'clean side' (pictured here)produces a whole range of styles - saisons, IPAs, stouts, kettle sours.  Everything, in fact, you'd expect to come from a  modern craft brewery - and all those I've had have been hugely enjoyable.  Recent hits for me have been Creamy Brothers (a milk stout with blackberries) and Mr Orange (a sour pale ale with blood oranges).

However it's on the 'bug side' where things get really interesting. Oersoep have been making wild beers for a while now - bottles of the superlative Brettalicious and Brettanosaurus Rex picked up at Manchester's Beemoth were real treats.  The row of 7,500 litre foudres is impressive to say the least, and these are backed up by a host of smaller wooden casks.A solera system is used to keep to large foudres topped up with new beer.

Then there's the 2000 litre coolship at the top of the brewery. This is surrounded by aged hops that are used in the spontaneously fermented beers (in the proper lambic fashion). Two 'Koelschip' beers have recently been released - Blauwe Bes, aged with blueberries, and Red Corvette, with cherries. I've been lucky enough to try both but I get the impression that numbers are limited and they are unlikely to find their way very far from the brewery.

After my tour round Oersoep, Sander took me round the corner to the other brewery in the Honigcomplex - Nevel Artisan Ales.

Founded in late 2014, Nevel started life as the Katjelam Brewing Co. Now, while 'katje' is Dutch for kitten, and 'lam', well lamb, katjelam is also Dutch for 'totally pissed'. So, with a move to more serious beers came a more serious name.

When I arrived some of the team were busy finishing off the new brewery tap (which involved sanding some serious pieces of timber) but I was able to chat to brewer Robert Maijzert. Robert explained that everything at Nevel is mixed fermentation and it certainly looked as though everything was also aged in oak casks, too - my scribbled notes suggest around 80% of the beer is in fact wood-aged. The same notes notes say there are 152 of these casks and the last two had just been filled.

The primary fermentation is in open-topped vessels and afterwards the beer is rested for two weeks before going into the casks.The aim is to be all organic and much used is made of herbs and fruit.  I didn't have the chance to try any Nevel beers on the day but I have since and can see why they have a growing reputation in the Netherlands.

After that is was back to Stoom and chat over a few beers. Most were from Oersoep but one was a pretty sensational saison from Cyclic Beer Farm which I'd never heard of but turns out to be a tiny brewery in Barcelona - if I come across anything else by these people I'll be on it like a shot. Sander also told me that another brewery is due to set up nearby which should only add to Nijmegen's beery attractions. I'll be back - as they say.