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Tuesday 1 September 2020

Cider with.....Ted and Janet

I don't know how we came to know Ted Jones and his wife Janet. It is almost certain, I think, that the introductions were made by the late Rhys Jones (no relation) who was for many years in charge of the cider and perry bar at Stockport Beer & Cider Festival.

Apart from Ted becoming in effect the festival's private cider maker, he and Janet also became great friends. From around 1992 we asked our customers to vote for their cider and perry of the festival. Many of the winners came from the famous 'Three Counties' of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, one of the hearts of English cider making and arguably the spiritual home of perry, and so, on our return journey from presenting the awards, "Sunday morning at Ted and Janet's" became an annual fixture.

They lived on a smallholding down a couple of minor roads in deepest Herefordshire. I'm still not sure exactly where, and Rhys was always famously vague when other cider enthusiasts attempted to track Ted down - 'near Bromyard' was all they got.

Ted, and the cohort of friends and neighbours who were always in attendance, was perhaps the last of the great domestic, non-commercial cider makers left in the UK. Certainly, he was one of the last.  Whilst happy to put on demonstrations of cider making at various country fairs and the like, using some of the many items of antique equipment stored in or near his barn, Ted's cider and perry were never for sale. Apart from at Stockport Beer & Cider Festival that is, as each year he donated cider and perry which we sold for charity - and our visits presented an opportunity to hand over the annual cheque. The proceeds went to a local hospice where, in fact, both Janet and he ended their 

That large barn, just next to his substantial farmhouse, was the centre of operations. Surrounded by all manner of ancient equipment and vehicles, all in various states of decay or restoration, inside it was really a working mu
seum. Old advertising and cider paraphernalia lined the walls, and in one corner lay a row of oak barrels - each containing the cider or perry allocated to Ted and his friends - they all had at least one apiece to see them through the year.

In the middle was an elderly (and rather noisy) diesel-powered scratter, used to process the fruit, and in the habit of randomly ejecting bits of cider apple or perry pear in the direction of those standing too close.  The pulp was then transferred to an equally antique press where it was used to construct the 'cheese' between layers of horse hair in the time-honoured fashion. Tasting the sweet juice as it came off the press was always a treat. Buckets of the juice were then transferred to the waiting barrels for nature to take its course over the winter months. All of this was accompanied by plenty of jokes, banter and excellent bread and cheese.

Today, when the cider world is being seriously 'rethought' and many new entrants have brought with them wine industry and craft beer sensibilities, this was old-style rustic cider making at its purest; a latter day continuation of a centuries-old tradition. It was a privilege to witness, and in a small, tangential way, be part of.

Rhys with Janet and a selection of that wine.

Now a confession. Despite relishing the experience, I'm ashamed to say I never really got on with Ted's cider or perry.  Both of them, and unusually for perry, were defined by an iron-like dryness. So, while the rest of the party were enjoying their copious samples, I took refuge in the, quite lethal, apple or pear wine Janet produced. I can however attest that it made for an excellent prelude to the substantial Sunday lunch that inevitably followed (and for that both the Live & Let Live at Bringsty Common and the Talbot at Knightwick are highly recommended.

Here are a few more images from one of those Sunday mornings. 

Monday 10 August 2020

Beer of the Week

Atom Brewing Fig Harvest

I think this may be the first American beer to feature in the intermittent history of this blog - and I have to admit it was something of an impulse buy.

Those who follow me on Twitter (@Beer4John) will know that over the past few weeks I've browsed a few beery webshops and bought the, ahem, occasional bottle or two. One site I can particularly recommend is Etre Gourmet, and the last time I was 'window shopping' I noticed a range of wild/sour beers from a Stateside brewery new to me. I splurged on all four and if this one is anything to go by, I think I've made the right call.

So, Atom Brewing. Well for a start it's not to be confused with the UK's own Atom Brewing, based in Hull (coming soon here) - unlike their US namesakes I doubt they will be a "farmhouse inspired brewery" nor be "committed to mixed culture and spontaneous fermentation". Mind you it would be an exciting development if they were.

Atom Brewing's shiny new website seems a little short on the brewery's history but it looks as though it started up in 2015, and for most of that time has been based in Erie, Colorado, about 12 miles from the better-known, or at least better-heard-of, Boulder. It won't be in Erie any more though. In April this year the owners purchased a 45 acres farm in upstate New York and have moved the whole operation there. This should allow them to expand production as it seems the new brewery building is 2,000 square feet, rather than the 500 square feet back in Erie.

It was set up by Jeff and Chris Porn (a couple whose name you Google with care and, I suspect, perhaps a little trepidation...) and in a shameless lift from the website, I'll let them explain their philosophy:

Over the course of four and a half years we transformed the property into a small Hobby Farm and Brewery, growing as many ingredients as we could to use in our beers on the property. We also moved to a unique way of brewing by having a 5 barrel copper kettle built which we brewed in over open wood fire. Within a year we added on by having a copper mash tun and coolship built, this was the beginning of our spontaneous beer program. 

Word started to spread about this little brewery in Erie Colorado, who brewed in a copper kettle, using wood fire and wild yeast harvested on the property. Before we knew it, people were asking for our beers in places like Belgium, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Australia.

It was reading all of this that made me think these beers were worth a try (mind you, if you don't do sour beers it would be as off-putting as I found it attractive). Which neatly brings us to Fig Harvest (6.5%).  The basic premise you'll get from what's written above  while the attractively tactile label provides some more background:

Farmhouse base beer aged for six months in neutral oak barrels. The beer was then moved to one of our custom built "Punch Down" barrels and added two pounds per gallon of figs. The fruit was punched down twice a day for two weeks then left to referment for two months.

Must say, I like the sound of a "punch down" barrel - I'm sure it could be a great stress reliever.

Cutting to the chase now, what's it like? The nose certainly has an appealing sharpness - although like many non-lambic spontaneous/wild beers perhaps lacks some of the depth and refinement you'd get from a Payottenland beer. The briefest balancing hint of figgy sweetness also comes through which, for me, adds to the appeal.

It pours a pale hazy orange and the refreshing sharpness continues throughout - with more of that background hint of sweet fruit just poking through. I wouldn't say this was particularly figgy, but they certainly bring something to the party. Everything hangs around for a while on the palate too - it's not one of those beers that makes its excuses and leaves early. 

So, that's a thumbs up from me and I'm looking forward to trying the others, one of which, Blend One Beer Wine Hybrid, sounds particularly interesting.



Monday 3 August 2020

Beer of the Week

Brouwerij De Ranke Complexité

The bilingual heading here reflects both the origins of this beer and the slightly split personality of the brewery itself.

The Flemish-sounding Brouwerij De Ranke is in fact located at Dottignies, in the French-speaking Belgian province of Hainaut (possibly the spiritual home of modern-day saisons, but that's another story). It started in 2005 and was set up by Nino Bacelle and Guido Devos (who sound neither Flemish nor Wallonian) and since then has quietly made its mark as one of the best breweries in Belgium. Although, like others who quietly go about pursuing excellence, De Ranke has largely remained below the radar of the international craft beer geekerati. Which is no bad thing, to be honest.

All their beers have a touch of class. The dry Saison de Dottignies (5.5%) is a classic of the style, Noir de Dottigines (9%) is a hoppy Belgian porter while Père Noël (7%) combines festive strength with restrained but balancing bitterness.

There's also an entertaining line of accomplished sour beers, all of which only appear in 75cl bottles (which is very Wallonian). Cuvée De Ranke (7%) is a blend of a stock blond ale with lambic, while Kriek de Ranke (7%) is similar with cherries. In recent years the brewery has released Vielle Provision, which, or so I was told, is the neat version of the stock ale that goes to make Cuvée.  They've dabbled in lambic production too, with the release of Mirakel (5.5%) a gueuze-like blend of two Payottenland lambics and their own Spierelambiek, named after a small river running near the brewery. Another recent release has been Wijnberg (5.8%), their take on a Flemish Oud Bruin.

So far, so Belgian. However....

As the Good Beer Guide Belgium will tell you, De Ranke pioneered the use of hops in Belgian brewing - that is to say, they were the first to produce beers with a notable hop profile. They did, and do, this using locally grown hops, and using only whole hop cones. Early stand-outs, which are still with us today, were the elegant XX Bitter (6%) and the herbal hop-tangy tripel-esque Guldenberg (8.5% but doesn't really show it). Over the years this side of things has been extended to include the sessionable (not a Kölsch) Simplex (4.5%), the softer and fuller XXX Bitter (6%) and the annual Hop Harvest (6%) using freshly harvested green hops.

Which leads us, to Complexité. This was launched early last year and is a collaboration with Canadian (well, Quebecois) Brasserie Dunham , which was founded in 2011 and since when has produced a large number of beers  (there are no fewer than 359 entries on the RateBeer website). I don't know how it all came about but the end result is a deliciously impressive American IPA with a Belgian accent. It's a drinkable 6%, and combines (Belgian-grown!) Cascade and Centennial hops in a masterclass of how to use them with the Centennial providing a firm underpinning bitterness.  The Cascade was also used to generously dry-hop the beer although my bottle was perhaps a year old so some of the fresh aroma may have dissipated.

Like many of the De Ranke specials, this only came in 75cl bottles but good news! The beer has now been taken into the permanent range as Amer Amer - and is available not only in 33cl bottle but also 20l kegs so this is one I'll certainly be looking out for on tap when I'm next in Belgium.

Thursday 23 July 2020

From the Archives - December 1985

Gatley & Northenden

This Stagger, which appeared in the December 1985 issue of Opening Times, would have taken place in September or October.

It starts off in the relatively well-heeled Stockport suburb of Gatley and finished in the less well-heeled (but now up-and-coming) Manchester district of Northenden, which has, to me, always seemed rather cut off from the rest of the city.As we will see later, the pub scenes in these two areas have had rather different histories.

This was written by me and was one of the earliest Staggers I wrote up. Here we go....

A less well surveyed part of the Stockport & South Manchester Branch area, Gatley & Northenden provide an interesting variety of both pubs and beer, most of the latter being consistently good.

The crawl started at the Red Lion, Gatley, a Chesters house selling handpumped mild and bitter. A typical Whitbread conversion this (it used to have one of their silly names - the Bitter End) but with a too-loud jukebox (presumably the regulars prefer it like that). The mild at 71p was better thought of than the bitter (72p), which was only average.

Next stop was Hydes Prince of Wales. This could really be a country pub as it looks the part both outside and in, although to my mind the semi open plan interior seemed a bit characterless. The beer was well thought of however, both mild and bitter being equally good. Better value than the previous pub too, at 64p and 69p respectively.

On to the Good Beer Guide listed Horse & Farrier (also Hydes) with again a good mild and bitter (65p and 69p). This low-ceilinged multi-roomed pub really does ooze character, a fact which is obviously appreciated by the locals as it was busy at only 8pm.

The 44 bus stops near the Horse & Farrier and this will take you into Northenden where our first stop was the Jolly Carter, a Boddingtons house. This is basically a large open-plan estate type pub which used to be the local of one of our party, who was of the opinion that it was 'dead' compared to her previous visits. Both mild and bitter (mild cheap at 63p) and both were good, the mild being particularly appreciated.

Next was the Church, a monumental and recently modernised Tetley pub. God knows what trouble they were expecting but there were no fewer than eight (that's right, eight!!) bouncers on the door. "Is this a pub or a bouncers convention?" wondered one of our party after we'd got in. Not only must such overkill be costing a bomb in wages it really is off-putting to the passer-by who might have considered popping in for a pint. The modernisation has been done well and despite the usual masses of plastic vegetation, is tasteful and comfortable. The mild wasn't on (although on previous form has been excellent) so we tried the bitter (at 75p the dearest so far) of which opinions varies from good to pretty poor!

The derelict Tatton Arms
The next stop was the Tatton, a monumental manor house type pub managed by the Pennine Host Group selling Wilsons beers. In due course Pennine Hosts will be 'renovating' the pub as is the intention with all pubs under their control and it is to be hoped that something will be done about the beer as well. This was the worst of the night with the bitter not even considered average and the first two pints of mild having been 'in the pipes' for some time and proving undrinkable. To be fair, the mild was OK after this although judging by the young clientele it's difficult to see much being sold.

Re-tracing our steps we called at Boddingtons Crown. A real pub atmosphere here and packed to the doors. The mild was some of the best beer of the night, although opinions varied wildly on the bitter, ranging from very good to poor. It's probably true to say that a wide range like this is more down to personal taste than the quality of the beer.

Finally Greenalls Farmers Arms. Again a good pub atmosphere and agreement  on both the mild and bitter which were generally agreed to be good.

The night had finished as well as it had started.

(Readers should note that the comments in the above are not intended to be a statement on the quality of the pubs or beer on all occasions, but is our opinion of both on the night of the crawl).

What happened next

As I said at the beginning, history has dealt rather differently to the pubs of Gatley and Northenden.

The former Red Lion
Of the Gatley pubs visited on this Stagger only the first has closed (there have been two others but we'll come to them in a minute). The Red Lion closed in 2009 and has been converted to a Tesco Express. The description on WhatPub sums up its latter years well:

Prior to that it was for some years a failing keg pub that seemed to attract an unsavoury element. One large room dominated by a pool table.

Both the Prince of Wales and the Horse & Farrier continue to thrive as Hydes houses, selling a range of their own cask beers and, in the case of the Horse & Farrier, a sprinkling of guest beers too. They've both been refurbished since that Stagger but remain fine, characterful pubs.

The other Gatley closures I should mention are Gothic and the High Grove. Gothic, about halfway between the Prince of Wales and the Horse & Farrier, started life as a Methodist chapel and dated back to 1841. It was skilfully converted into a bar by Liverpool-based Cains, who, it has to be said, did an excellent job of work. I also recall a memorable trip around the Cains estate organised by Gothic. The seasoned CAMRA crowd taking part took it all in their stride but some of the untrained civilians had to be helped off the coach when we returned to Gatley in the evening after what could be called a solid day out.  Sadly Gothic closed in August 2010 and reopened as a wine bar/Italian restaurant a year later.

It's not surprising the Stagger didn't cover the other pub in Gatley as the High Grove was in deepest suburbia. Built by Hydes in 1964 it always seemed to do well and I was surprised to hear it was doomed. In October 2015 the locals got wind of Hydes' plans to sell off the pub for redevelopment and managed to get the pub listed as an Asset of Community Value - not that this did any good. The flaw in the ACV scheme that rapidly became apparent was, while it gave the locals a six-month window to bid for the pub, it did not compel Hydes to sell it to them. And so, the pub closed its doors on 10 May 2016 and was demolished two months later.  Houses now occupy the site.

It's been a rather different story in Northenden.

The Jolly Carter, was an old Victorian Boddingtons house that was demolished in the very early 1970s and replaced with the more modern estate pub visited on the Stagger. It closed in Spring 2004 and has been replaced by the small Cedarwood Close housing development.

En route to the Church we would have passed the Spread Eagle. This was another modern rebuild of a more modest 19th centruy pub (which you can see here).  Being an old Groves & Whitnall house it ended up in Greenalls's hands and hadn't sold cask beer for years. A troubled pub, its license was suspended in 2011 following a shooting (details here). It was demolished in December 2012 to be replaced by flats and houses.

The monolithic Church started life as a Hardy's Crown Brewery house (you can see the crowns on the top of the pub here) and so ended up as a Tetley house*.  Another pub with more than its fair share of problems (including a murder in 2002), it closed in 2006. A subsequent, and suspect, fire sealed the Church's fate and after lying derelict for several years, it was converted into flats in 2016.

Still lying derelict after its closure in 2008 is the equally large Tatton Arms.  Numerous schemes have been put forward for its redevelopment, the latest in December 2019 (which you can read about here).

Happily, the final two pubs on the Stagger are still with us. The Crown and the Farmers Arms continue to thrive and also sell a range of cask ales - cask Boddingtons Bitter was a fixture until it ceased to be. I think they may still sell the keg version.

There have also been one or two openings in Northenden, with perhaps the best being Northenden Untapped, a micropub partially owned by the licensee of the Crown. It sells three cask and eight keg beers along with a range of cans and other drinks. It's been a very welcome addition to the area and you can read a bit more about it  here).

* Hardy's Crown Brewery was jointly taken over by Cornbrrok Brewery, which took two-thirds of the pubs, and Ind Coope, which took the remainder. Hence, once the 1960s take-over and merger frenzy had subsided,  most of the ex-Hardy's pubs ended up as Bass houses with the rest going to Tetley.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Here's How...

All About Wine (and other stuff)

I've recently come into possession of various old books to do with pubs and booze. One of the most entertaining is 'Here's How...' published by the Victoria Wine Company, a once major off-license chain that went through various mergers  before vanishing into history.

In the 1930s the company produced this quite substantial booklet  covering all things to do with wine and spirits. Beer and cider get a couple of pages too. It was reprinted in 1954, which is when my copy dates from, and retailed at 6d (that's 2½p).

It's very much of its time as shown by the casual sexism of the introduction:

In HERE'S HOW is presented a veritable encyclopedia or handbook of the cellar, from which the socially inclined reader may glean what suitable information he requires, or just the cocktail recipe he desires for his own friends' delectation. The Housewife, too, is not forgotten. There's a section to guide here in the fine art of flavouring soups, puddings and meat dishes, by the introduction of a "little something". A discreet "touch" to a dish will often hang invisible diplomas around her fair neck, by her guests' approval...and certainly bring here husband home punctually to dinner six days out of six!

Much is devoted to wine, as you may expect, with a description of the many types available, including:

EMPIRE WINES. These wines, chiefly from Australia and South Africa, now enjoy a great popularity due not only to their excellent and uniform quality but also to the lower prices made possible by preferential rates of duty....Both Dominions also ship good quality rich wines of port character, ruby, tawny and white.

There is guidance on storing and serving wine and also how to select the best vintages (you'll note that in 1941, everything apart from champagne was considered 'valueless'. I wonder what was happening that year....)

Pages of cocktail recipes are followed by some notes on beer, cider and how to throw darts.  It seems clear that Victoria Wine  offered a variety of cask beers in pins and firkins which would be delivered and tapped ('by a burly representative'). Interestingly, the very brief notes on cider do reference a couple of proper cider apples (Foxwhelp and Kingston Black) before listing the varieties stocked from Bulmers, Coates and Gaymers.

Skirting past the pages of recipes (where margarine, lard and dripping feature generously) we come to something that would give the likes of the Portman Group a funny turn - "Here's How - to nip a cold or chill in the bud...".

Perhaps my favourite suggestion for keeping a cold at bay is:

Buy a bottle of whisky and have plenty of hot water handy. Soak your feet in hot mustard and water, light a candle and get into bed. Keep sipping the hot whisky and water, preferably sweetened with honey, until you can see two candles. Continue this treatment until you see three candles, then snuff out the middle one, turn over and go to sleep.

Notes on how to throw a party (with long drink, punch and mulled wine recipes) are followed by a brief discourse on liqueurs ("those potent distillations of myriad colours and pure delight...") there is advice on how to choose and store cigars, with the slightly rueful note:

Since the second World War the importation of Havana cigars has, owing to currency restrictions, been prohibited in this country, and it is only since the beginning of 1952 that the importation of small quantities has been permitted.

The booklet finished with a list of local branches, mainly based in London and the Home Counties, but also  with around 20 branches in Bristol where they traded through  E A Mitchell Ltd. I wonder how many of those stores exist today?  There's a history of the branch at 229 Church Road, Redfield here, while 243 North Street, Bedminster still seems to function as an off-licence if this  is correct.

I must say this sort of window into a vanished world always fascinates me - I imagine there must be may similar books and leaflets around.

Here are a few more pages for you.

Wednesday 8 July 2020

From the Archives - March 1985

The Edgeley Escapade

You lucky people, two 'From the Archives' posts in one week.

This time we go back to March 1985 and a Stagger on my doorstep, which I remember taking part in (it actually took place in January).  The author was the pseudonymous 'Jock Stroller' who in fact was, and is, Alastair Walker who lives with his wife Angela in Whaley Bridge. I still see them for a few beers from time to time.  As you'll see, his write-ups tended not to mince their words.

As we'll see later this Stagger caused ructions, in more ways than one. Anyway, here we go...

Beer scores from 0 (undrinkable) to 4 (excellent).

The first Good Beer Guide survey crawl of 1985 kicked off in the Alexandra, Northgate Road, off Castle Street, Edgeley.  This excellent multi-roomed Victorian pub, with a superb ornate listed interior is a perfect example of how excellent many of Robinsons pubs were before their current wave of so-called improvements turn them into boring identikit, one-room bars that are totally devoid of character.  The beer was also in good nick with the Bitter (63p) averaging 2.75 and the mild (60p) 3.75. Handpumped Old Tom is available at the ridiculously low price of 98p. The pub is slightly off the beaten track but is definitely well worth a visit.

Turning right up Northgate Road, and right again brought us onto Bloom Street, where the Hollywood is located. Formerly a private residence, this is now a large, rambling pub with many rooms to suit all tastes. It is owned by Pennine Joke (Hosts) so it will doubtlessly soon be turned into a licensed astrodome or such like. Beware of low-flying drunks and very noisy children lobbing beer mats 'Odd-Job' fashion! Wilsons mild (62p) and bitter (64p) scored 2.9 and 2,2 respectively.

Turning right took us up to Castle Street. The third port of call was Wilsons Royal Oak, a predictable Brewers Tudor type pub. Short measures all round and no sign of a price list. The West wing of the open plan lounge is called the Regency Suite and the East wing the Royal Box. I doubt if the royal family would be inclined to visit this nondescript pub! Bitter (66p0 scored 2.5 and mild (63p) 2.9.

A little further up castle Street is the Prince Albert. This good basic boozer is somewhat spoiled by the cheap and nasty Brewers Tudor interior but sells a reasonable pint of Wilsons mild (62p, 2.9 scored) and bitter (64p, 2.1). Note the interesting directions for the toilets before going back out to Castle Street and the Sir Robert Peel.

This Greenalls pub has recently been modernised and most people agreed that the new decor was an improvement. The comfortable and congenial atmosphere was compensated by good beer on handpump, with mild (64p) scoring 3.1 and bitter (66p) 2.4.

Back to Wilsons in the Pineapple where the bitter (65p) scored 2 and the mild (64p) was unavailable. This boozer is somewhat nondescript but not unpleasant. I am reliably informed that there is a lovely mirror in the ladies loo!

Across the street lay the Windsor Sports (ex Castle), a recently tarted up Pennine Joke pub. The keg decor was complemented by keg mild, in this pseuds pub which looks like an art nouveau McDonalds with pool tables. In fairness there were a lot of sweaty bodies packed in, so it is undoubtedly popular, unlike the handpumped bitter (64p) which only managed 1.8.

A bit further on lay the Jolly Crofter. For some inexplicable reason this uninteresting pub was even more popular than the Windsor Sports. The bitter (66p) received the night's poorest score (1.1). There was a ridiculously loud jukebox playing bloody awful 'music', short measures were dispensed by unfriendly staff. The only point in its favour was that the mild managed a fairly respectable score of 2.4.

A quick diversion to the other side of the roundabout led us to the Armoury, an ex-Bells pub with many excellent small wood-panelled rooms but a disappointing lounge. Robinsons mild (60p) scored 2 and bitter (63p) 2.5.

Back across the roundabout to the Grapes for last orders. This good, basic boozer is on the reserve GBG list and has an excellent chance  of getting into the 1986 Guide. A convivial atmosphere is reinforced by good beer and good prices. Robinsons mild (59p) and bitter (63p) achieved 2.9 and 3 respectively. Since it was the end of the session we were forced to sample the Old Tom (£1.06) which scored 4 (enough said!!)

NB: Since this crawl Robinsons increased their prices by an average of 2p per pint.

What happened next

Well may you ask. There were repercussions.

Firstly, one of the local newspapers decided to aggregate the scores and publish a 'CAMRA league table of Edgeley pubs' or something along those lines.  Needless to say, that wasn't too popular among the lower ranking pubs - cue outraged letters.  This prompted a re-think on how Staggers were written and in future, average scored were dropped in favour of comments like 'the beer was above average'. More long-winded perhaps, but much less controversial (although scores were still recorded for beer quality monitoring - as they still are).

The other minor explosion came from the direction of the Jolly Crofter where the licensees objected to the phrase 'short measures dispensed by unfriendly staff'. This prompted a reconciliatory visit by a few of us which did patch things up. Mind you, our stay was accompanied by so many ostentatious displays of generous topping-up that by the time we left the bar top was awash with surplus beer.

So, what about the pubs themselves? The Alexandra  still trades as a Robinsons tied house and its architectural merits have been recognised by a place on CAMRA's National Inventory of heritage pubs. You can read all about it here. For the record though, it's neither Victorian nor 'off Castle Street'.

It's not entirely certain that the Hollywood started life as a private house. What is certain is it closed in January 2012 and has since been converted into a nursery school. I remember going to a CAMRA committee meeting in one of the upstairs rooms and a local brass band playing in the next one, which made conversation difficult to say the least.

On to Castle Street now and the Royal Oak is still open, albeit 'to let'. It's had a variety of licensees in recent years and could do with some stability I think. It still sells cask beer (well, usually anyway).  The mock-tudor interior has gone, along with the Regency Suits and the Royal Box.

The Prince Albert was a two-roomed, lounge-and-vault, Wilsons pub back in 1985, with a long-serving licensee.  The pub was knocked through after he retired but today it still fills a role as a community pub with, generally speaking, a more mature customer base. It's run by the Craft Union Pub Company. This is a division of Ei (formerly Enterprise Inns) concentrating on community locals - and which seems rather keen on cask beer. The Prince Albert currently has Wadworth 6X and Taylor's Landlord on handpump.

The Sir Robert Peel is a Punch Taverns pub which is currently 'to let' or rather as the sign puts it 'pub lover wanted'.  It can be quite a lively pub at times and does not, as far as I know, sell cask beer (although it has dabbled with it from time to time). Back in the day, this was a tied house belonging to Joseph Worrall's Windsor Castle Brewery, which was sited just off Castle Street.

Next up was the Pineapple, one of the few remaining mid-terraced pubs around, and another Worrall's tied house once upon a time. It's a remarkable survivor and is, I think, independently owned. Very much a locals' pub, no cask beer has been sold for years.

The Pineapple was almost across the road the the Windsor Castle, which had become Windsor Sports back in 1985. This was a classic example of a Host Group refurbishment being left untouched for far longer than its anticipated shelf life and in later years it all just, literally, fell apart.

The old Windsor Castle Brewery was located behind the pub which formed part of a terrace. The brewery sold out to Wilsons in 1896 and in the 1930s the whole site was redeveloped and the new pub always looked somehow out of place among the smaller pubs and shops on Castle Street.  After its Sports phase the pub has various incarnations, one as 'The Joseph Worrall'. It finally closed in June 2006 and after two years blighting the area, it was knocked down and replaced by shops and flats, which you can see here. It is, I think, lucky that the Edgeley Discount Store lost the 'u' from its sign, rather than the 'o'....

The aforementioned Jolly Crofter is also still up and running. It hasn't sold cask beer for years, though.  Unlike the Armoury, which is something of a local flagship for Robinsons. Despite some minor opening out, it's still a multi-roomed community local, which has thriving darts scene and is home to various local groups (the meetings to organise Stockport Beer & Cider Festival are usually held there). The wood-panelled lounge is a particularly fine room, and the Robinsons beers are among the best you'll get in Stockport. Unsurprisingly it's a regular fixture in the Good Beer Guide.

And finally, the Grapes. This was a fine local, run for many years by Dave and Sandra George, with immaculate Robinsons beers. After Dave and Sandra retired it was taken on by Noel and Val Jones, who moved there from the Spread Eagle on Hillgate (which Robinsons closed to turn into brewery offices). They'd settled in nicely but then got the chance to fulfil a lifetime's ambition and departed to Crete. The Grapes closed in February 2012 and is now a café.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

From the Archives - Opening Times August 1985

Simpkiss Brewery and other matters

Apologies for the temporary absence. When I last posted, we looked at a Stagger of Levenshulme & Longsight back in August 1985, and I also promised a look at the rest of that issue. Here we are.

The main front page story concerned the closure of a brewery a long way from the Opening Times area but there were local connections.

The small Black Country brewery of JP Simpkiss, based at Brierley Hill, had been taken over Greenall Whitley in July. Greenalls had previously been reported as having a bid 'on the table' for some years and when patriarch Dennis Simpkiss died in the early 1980s his son Jonathan sold out in a deal reputedly worth £1.9 million. 

Now, you would think that with a bit of foresight and imagination, Greenalls might have seen this as a possible new boutique operation for them. The Simpkiss estate of 16 pubs could have been expanded, and production of the well regarded bitter increased. But this was Greenalls - the history of their last two decades or so seemed to be a history of poor decisions. Every time they came to a fork in the road, they'd choose the wrong path. What could have been the north west's equivalent of Greene King or Marston's has simply vanished into history.

What they did at Simpkiss seemed particularly reprehensible. The brewery was closed down immediately and the last brew actually poured away. The brewery was quickly demolished - apparently to extend the car par of the former brewery tap, the Foley Arms. The head brewer, John Simmonds, had now seen two breweries close under him - he'd previously been at the old Hole's Brewery in Newark which Courage closed down in 1983.

Funnily enough, Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA had paid a visit to the brewery the previous year, which I'd organised as branch Social Secretary at the time. I remember having a good chat to John as Hole's was one of my two home-town breweries and I remember having pints of the keg Courage (formerly Hole's) AK in local pubs.

You'll note a couple of other things on the front page. Pub of the Month was the Castlewood - we visited this pub here a couple a weeks ago. After several future incarnations it closed in 2003 and has been converted to retail use with flats above.

The former Bridgewater today
There is also an advert for the Bridgewater on Chestergate. In its days as a Wilsons pub it had appeared in the national Good Beer Guide for a few years in the late 1970s and early eighties. The 1979 edition has it selling Wilsons Great Northern Mild and Bitter with the description "Friendly pub, a mecca for darts enthusiasts". It had opened as a free house in June 1985 but closed just five years later. The building is till there being put to other use.

Page 2

This was another instalment of 'Round Britain Drinker' and was written by 'Jock Stroller' (who we shall meet in the next Stagger). Let's have a swift look at some of those pubs.

The Craig Dhu Hotel seems to have vanished but the Onich Hotel is still with us and now sells River Leven Blonde apparently.  The Nevis Bank Hotel in Fort William is now the Nevis Bank Inn and sells two beers from the Cairngorm Brewery, while the Ben Nevis Bar sells beer from the Hanging Tree Brewery (which I'd never heard of but is apparently based in the grounds of the Benleva Hotel in place called Drumnadrochit - here's the Facebook page ).

In Dingwall the National Hotel is still there but sells no cask beer. Up in Thurso, the Central Hotel (also known as Top Joe's apparently) sells three changing guest beers, the Station Bar no longer sells cask while the Marine Bar is now a B&B.

The Caledonian Hotel at Portree may now be the Tongadale Hotel and sells two beers from the local Isle of Skye Brewery. Finally the Inn on the Garry looks like it is now the Invergarry Hotel selling Tetley Bitter.

Page 3

I'm not spending long on this one. Just to record that out of the 11 pubs mentioned, just five remain in operation today.

Pages 4 and 5

Page four is the Stagger we've already covered. On page five, I'll just mention the Travellers Call, the subject of the Pub Grub article.  The Travellers was on Ashton Old Road in Openshaw, not far from the current junction with Alan Turing Way (the construction of which ultimately did for the pub). As you can see it became a free house and flowered for a while (it certainly got itself a local Pub of the Month award).

I think the main point of all this is the location on Ashton Old Road in Openshaw. Back in the day there was a huge number of pubs on or near Ashton Old Road (so much so that when we started planning the Stagger programme, three were needed to cover them all). While these Archive blog posts have covered much of East Manchester,  none have really looked at Openshaw so perhaps a very long post, combining some of the articles and reviewing the fate of all those pubs might be an interesting exercise.

As for the Travellers Call, the October 1990 edition of Opening Times records its closure while the following year the demolition is noted.

Page 6

Again, bits of Pub News. The Houldsworth still trades but sells no cask beer while the Union is also still with us and, as  Robinsons tied house very much does sell cask beer.  The Crown on Heaton Lane has been something of  a cask flagship ever since the Boddington Pub Co turned it into one of their ale houses. At one stage it had a house beer, Green Bullet, produced by Brendan Dobbin at his West Coast Brewery. It's still a free house, now owned by Red Oak Taverns, and is 'to let' but still open and trading.

The only casualty has been Robinsons' Unity which they first 'mothballed' in March 2012 , subsequently selling it off. It's been converted into (what must be very small) flats.