Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for

Easter time usually sees us take a trip to Leeds, for a long weekend of eating simnel cake, playing petanque and not winning the pub quiz. This year, however, saw a change of plan, being as my aunt and uncle decided for some unfathomable reason they would rather be sunning themselves on Bondi Beach instead of dodging hail stones in Wetherby.  There's nowt queer as folk.

While I was ruing missing out on a customary surfeit of roast beef and red wine, having four days off work gave us the perfect excuse to traverse the Pennines to enjoy a surfeit of breweries and beer shops. And a pretty big hangover.

First up on Saturday was an early morning trip across a Piccadilly trading estate for a tour and tasting at Cloudwater Brew Co. At just over a year old, they are already one of Britain's most lauded breweries and have created quite a stir with their innovative range of 'modern, seasonal beers'.

We had booked in for the 11 o'clock tour and, being as it's never too early for a beer when on holiday, we were greeted with a schooner of US Light Comet - a session IPA brewed to mimic the lite lagers ubiquitous in the US. A sensible start as the sun was not yet over the yard arm and a refreshing beer for a hot summer session (we'd be so lucky).

While there’s not a huge amount to see on the tour – the brewery and tap are all housed in one large unit and once you’ve seen one holding tank, you’ve seen them all - our guide, one of the half a dozen brewers working at the brewery, was friendly and knowledgeable. The experience probably best suited those who know their sparging from their spontaneous fermentation and want to ask more in-depth questions about home-brewing or their business strategy. 

It was also interesting to hear about some new experiments, based on their seasonal ethos, including the very lively barrel I was stood next to, which lead to a hypnotic few minutes watching the froth intermittently gush up through the bung.

After the tour was some more tasting and first up was the one we’d all been hoping for; their DIPA v.3 straight from the tank. If you have even the most cursory interest in all things keg-related, their DIPA is the beer on everyone’s lips. Or not, as the case may be, with limited stocks meaning this stuff is rarer than a brewer without a beard.

I have to confess, I haven’t tried the previous incarnations – v1 passed me by and by the time v2 was out I had already planned our beery tour up North, and wanted to have something to look forward to. The official release for this wasn't until the Brewdog AGM last weekend, but I had my fingers crossed we’d get a sneak preview. This was a tropical explosion, with a resinous chewiness and a light smack of booze on the finish. Certainly up there with the recent BBNO double IPA and Beavertown's Double Chin.

Beer nerdishness aside, we also tried a couple more of their spring/summer range in the form of the session IPA E.431, named after the 'experimental new hop' E.341 and brewed with German Comet hops and the black lager, like a summery black IPA and a great accompaniment to the bread and olives that appeared Jesus-like on our table while I was in the bathroom (I have many skills - TE)

I was very pleased to pick up a bottle of Hibernate Imperial stout for our cellar (cupboard under the stairs) from the onsite bottle shop. Although I was also pretty gutted that the last two bottles of IPA Citra that I had only heard great things about had literally just been nabbed from their tower of beer. The fact I was already pretty pissed softened the blow somewhat.

After finally leaving Cloudwater, a few hours after we had planned and several pounds down (monetary, unfortunately), we only had a short stagger to Track Brewery, who were holding an Easter Brewtap in conjunction with Squark Brewing Co. Although it was early afternoon, the party was already in full swing, with lots of beer - both keg and cask - from both breweries, a DJ on the decks and sparkly vegan cakes (I stuck with a bag of prawn cocktail Seabrooks to go with my Sonoma Pale Ale)

Mac Daddies were there bringing the food, and how could my wife, who's entering her fortieth year, resist the 1977. Although slightly dubious about the spice level promised by the 'chipotle infused four cheese macaroni with chorizo and spiced onions and topped with rocket and fresh red chillies', it was mercifully benign, heat-wise, if you avoided the fiery discs scattered across the top. 

The flavour, however, was full-on deliciousness. ooey, gooey, smoky and cheesy, despite the attempted concession to healthiness from the salad scattered across it. The Northern charm was also out in force as our neighbours, who we were sharing a bench with, happily shared their Squark Porter battered onion rings. And very good they were too.

Another recent addition to the Piccadilly Mile, Chorlton Brewing Company make 'contemporary beer inspired by Germanic brewing traditions'. Having first tried their beer (a sandalwood infused ale in Bristol, of all places), I was looking forward to their carefully curated trio for the weekend; an Amarillo Sour, a Citra Brett Pale, and an Eclipse black lager. 

The latter was the Ewing's choice; a schwartzbier brewed for Britain's 2015 solar eclipse that was mashed 24 hours before and then, just at the moment of totality, the yeast was added to the wort. I assume, from the speed in which she drank it, it was a heavenly as the celestial occurrence that inspired it. Not that I got to try it myself...

I had the Sour, which was excellent. With plenty of tangy citrus and sherbet this is proper summer refresher, but remember to bring the Rennies if you suffer from heartburn like I do. It was also good to chat with enthusiastic brewer, Mike Marcus - one of the best reasons to visit breweries, so you can meet some of the passionate people behind the getting pissed. 

We also grabbed a couple of each to take away. I'm particularly interested in how the bretted pale - fermented with brettanomyces not brewer's yeast - evolves. The BB date is 11.02.2021, but I'm pretty sure it's not going to last past the end of the month.

With a rapidly darkening sky beginning to threaten the promised biblical deluge, I was thankful that Beer Nouveau was just around the corner on, the fabulously monikered, Temperance Street - although by the time you read this their new brew tap will probably already have expanded onto the adjacent Great Western Street.

Of all the breweries we visited, I was perhaps the most excited to visit this one, mainly as I had read an excellent blog about their Easter Beer From The Wood Weekend -  with the promise of six beers that had been conditioned in and were being served from wooden casks. More specifically wooden casks that had been bought from Theakstons Brewery, with casks of the same beers also being served through a swan neck and sparkler for comparison alongside.

In contrast to our previous stops here there were no kegs and an abundance of traditional British hops such as  Fuggles, East Kent Golding and Challenger in a range of beers that included their take on Theakston’s Old Peculiar, Lee’s Moonraker and 1960’s Boddingtons recipe.

The Ewing tried the latter of these, a best bitter named Body Snatcher, while I sampled a more 'modern' version of the same ale, the Manchester Son. Both were fabulous, with unmistakable smoky whisky notes after just a fortnight in the wood. A great little place with great people, some interesting modern twists on classic beers and highly recommended for a half or two.

The Royal Flush of brewery visits came with our final stop, to the playing-card inspired Blackjack Brewery in the Green Quarter. We arrived with the party in full swing with grub curated by GRUB - including wood-fired pizza - and music curated by Goff. The big outside seating area meant there was also plenty of room to cut some rug

There were two cask and three keg Blackjack brews on offer when we arrived, although these were constantly rotating as they were open for visitors all weekend. And if you weren't trying to drink beers brewed solely withing the city limits (as I was) then they had bagged a good selection of from other brewers, with kegs from 6 North, Wylam and Brew by Numbers amongst others.

The atmosphere was as lively as the glass rinsing machine and we quickly bagged a table - albeit rickety enough to slosh beer on our shoes when we moved simultaneously - to enjoy our drinks. A pint of cask Royal Flush, an English hopped pale, for the Ewing and the Beginner's Luck, a NZ hopped pale, for me. Both decent, but I was hoping for a few of their more experimental ales to be on during our visit. I guess it's the Luck of the Draw - possibly the name of their next brew?

After spending most the weekend in drafty railway arches, surrounded by rubber hosing and stainless steel (a description that sounds far more kinky than the prosaic reality), we still had time for a couple of more civilised stops. First was Beermoth, a well-stocked Northern Quarter beer merchants. Although, by the time we visited there was sadly only an empty shelf space where the, now mythical in my mind, Cloudwater Citra once was. 

They also have an airy new café/bar where we sampled what looked like the world's biggest Jaegerbomb; in reality a pint of Quantum Pale Ale and an Alesmith Speedway Stout. While I had vowed to only drink beers made in Manchester (Quantumn, from Stockport, was the closest I could find in Beermoth) I couldn't pass up the chance to finally try the Speedway Stout - or, more accurately, order it on my wife's behalf and assist her with drinking it....

Last stop was the Port Street Beer House, where I persuaded the flagging Ewing we had time for one last hurrah. As she was ordering her half of Absence of Apples (an apple-less apple saison) from Mad Hatter (another experimental brewer worth looking out for), my eyes drifted toward a glowing orange label, glinting like a jewel through the sea of bottles in their well-stocked beer fridge; the Cloudwater Citra IPA. 

As the all-knowing (and never irritating) Stealth says, ‘it’s always in the last place you look’. In this case she was right, and it was well worth the wait.

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