It would be little exaggeration to say that the Port Street Beer House is a hidden gem. On the edge of Manchester’s slightly worn-out Northern Quarter, Port Street is 200 yards or so long. Not the wealthiest or poshest end of town at the best of times, on the wet and chilly day that I tramped the run-down streets of Northern Manchester it was positively grey and dismal. I knew it was here somewhere. I had read reviews about it. The reviewers raved, said it was one of the best bars not just in Manchester, but in the country. It had to be here. I tramped down to the end of the street, where it meets Great Ancoats Street. It wasn’t there. I splashed back the way I had come. There’s only one lit window on the street, but that can’t be it… Hang on… discreet lettering above a window reads ‘Port Street Beer House’. Knew it had to be here. I walked in and turned right into the main bar. Cool.
This is one of those places that in the 1980s would have been described as ‘bijou’.. The main bar is downstairs but there is further seating upstairs, but you have to come down for your beer. The furnishings are minimalist, but comfortable. The room is small, and the amount of space available is reduced even further by large square columns holding the ceiling up. The floor is wooden and polished to within an inch of its life – no rough floorboards here. The rafters are boxed in, plastered and decorated with pumpclips. Despite this not being a new building, the interior decor suggests brand new and shiny, a deliberate statement. I approached the bar, which sported seven traditional handpumps and a couple of modern keg dispensers. Not being much of a keg man (but see below), I didn’t pay huge attention to what was on offer from them, but did note that there were several foreign beers with which I was unfamiliar.
Behind the bar was a young man with a full beard, not a common sight these days. He smiled at my bedraggled, slightly soggy appearance.
‘I’ve had a bit of a job finding you,’ I said.
‘A lot of people say that,’ he replied.
‘Have you ever considered making your sign a little larger?’ I wondered.
‘No,’ he said, ‘We like it like that.’
I knew what he meant. They like their customers to be people who actually want to be there, less so the passing trade. A little search does no harm.
I ordered a Little Valley Stoodly Stout, a new one on me. It’s black in colour and has an ABV of 4.8%. The initial taste is strangely of sweaty socks, but thankfully this settles down quite quickly. It’s rich and smooth with slightly smoky citrus notes. Roasted malt predominates, with something else, which I couldn’t quite place, but I think may have been the wheat that is also present in this beer. There’s also a distinct hop bite that makes a nice foil for the tastebuds.
For a complete contrast, I next opted for a Redwillow Endless, a 3.8% IPA. I’ve been very impressed with the Redwillow beers I have tasted so far. It’s a new brewery, only opened in 2010 and is producing some really excellent beers. I may well dedicate a blog to this brewery in the near future. The beer is a bright, pale yellow, the brightness evident even in the subdued lighting conditions in the PSBH. The taste, too, is bright – cheerful almost. Lots of grapefruit pith in here with lovely swirling hops. A tad low in alcohol for a true IPA but nevertheless excellent.
The barman had told me that beer could be served in thirds, halves, two-thirds or full pints. Very modern, but useful, especially for the more top-end alcoholic brews. My next choice was Quantum Imperial Stout with Cranberry, which I ordered in a third-pint glass. Weighing in at a hefty 8.6%, this beer clearly deserved some respect, as does a beer house that is prepared to serve it. Quantum is an even newer brewer than Redwillow, having started brewing in Stockport (just south of Manchester) in the Summer of 2011. This Imp is superb, beautifully rounded and bitter. The dark, roasted taste is capped by a mist of alcoholic vapour, tickling the back of the nose as well as the roof of the mouth. A lovely beer, though I struggled to find cranberries in there.
Intrigued by the fancy keg dispensers, I was encouraged to try something from them. I chose to go for Stone Levitation, a 4.4% IPA from across the pond, where they do things differently. This beer is no exception. At 4.4%, it isn’t really strong enough to be classed as an IPA. Nor even is it pale, being a deep, rich red colour. Putting labelling aside, this beer has a wonderfully complex taste. Behind the massive hops I could also detect coffee and something a bit dry, that made itself known especially at the end. It’s a fine beer, despite it being keg. Yes! KEG!
I found the Port Street Beer House to be almost instantly comfortable. I knew that this was my sort of place almost the moment I settled into the little settee in the back corner. It is cool, subdued, mild-mannered. Not hip and trendy in some crass way, but truly a place for those in the know who want an eclectic choice of beers and the chance to drink them in a slightly better class of establishment. Simply wonderful.
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