Every once in a while, I like to go on a little pub crawl. Not necessarily a huge three-day affair like my epic trip round Sheffield, but just a gentle afternoon amble, taking in three or four pubs that are not too far apart.
My most recent such foray was prompted by a beer festival held at a pub called The Dulcimer in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester. I’d never heard of the Dulcimer before. I found that it was not listed in this year’s Good Beer Guide, but that does not mean it’s a bad pub, or even that it’s not excellent. There’s a lot of local politics in what goes into the GBG. Browsing the GBG, though, I did notice that it had several entries within easy walking distance of the Dulcimer. It seemed an excellent opportunity for an easy pub stroll.
So it was that on a miraculously mild Saturday in early May, a day nestled between the Never-Ending-Winter and the Never-Starting-Spring of 2013, my mate and I were dropped off on Chorlton’s Wilbraham Road by Lady Alebagger, who was going that way anyway. Wilbraham Road is the main east-west artery through Chorlton, and is a moderately busy thoroughfare.
The Dulcimer sits at the western end of Wilbraham Road, and was festooned with a brightly coloured banner advertising the beery delights of their real ale festival. We walked in and checked out the beers available on the bar. There was something wrong here, surely? The handpumps were there, but not in great number – is this the beer festival? Are we in the right place? Hoping inspiration would strike, we took off our coats and sat at a table to consider our options.
Within a few seconds, inspiration did strike, in the form of Otto Rhoden, a man who seems to live at beer festivals. After the obligatory back-slapping effusive greetings, Otto said “Festival bar’s upstairs, lads,” Ah! We wandered upstairs to the upper bar, in a long room with windows at the far end overlooking Wilbraham Road. The bar here looked far more promising. This bar positively bristled with wickets, each with an intriguing pump clip attached.
I started with a Wild Beer Stalker. Now I know that most people will start with the weaker beers and work their way up to the stronger offerings, but my problem is that I don’t read the pump clips properly, and so began the afternoon with a 7.0% strong ale. But, wow! What a start! Stalker is dark orange in colour, very smooth and creamy. It is sweet with a mild malty undertaste and a slightly hoppy finish. The whole taste is mild and gentle and washed over with a swell of butterscotch. It is an exceptional beer, and dangerously drinkable. ‘7%? No way!’ you will cry as you stagger out of the pub.
My second jar was Buxton Dark Nights at 5.0%, described on the pump clip as a ‘US style porter’. So I knew what to expect. Masses of hops, and that is what I got right from the first tentative sniff. The taste starts smoothly maltily and is followed quickly by a strong hoppiness. I’d be happier calling this a black IPA than a porter. Of course, I’m not really happy with the phrase ‘black IPA’, either. It’s self-contradictory. It’s not an IPA, it’s not a porter. It is what it is, and it is very good.
Thinking now would be a good time to move to a lighter beer, so I opted for a Moor Revival, a pale ale with a modest 3.6% ABV. It’s pale yellow and a little bit hazy. The taste is bright and hoppy with clear notes of grapefruit pith and a touch of elderflower. Nicely bitter and lip-smackingly good.
Next was a golden ale and despite my misgivings about many golden ales (see here), this was brewed by Thornbridge, so it had to be worth a punt. Thronbridge Lumford is a palish yellow beer that weighs in at 3.9%. I’m sorry to report that my issues with golden ales were raised again by this offering. It has a slightly odd flavour that I can’t quite place. Otto thought it was lemon. He may be right. Average.
Back to the stronger brews, next was Hardknott Azimuth, a strongish, orange-yellow ale with an above average ABV of 5.8%. This is more like it! Dark malt blended with a quite strong hoppiness, rich in texture and flavour. Splendid.
I had to double-check the ABV of the next beer. 2.8%? Is that right? Yep, 2.8%. I somewhat unenthusiastically agreed to a half. Kernel Table Beer is a perfectly decent orange colour, and I prepared myself for a rather taste-free experience as I sipped. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Table Beer is wonderfully hoppy, the hops being quite sharp and up-front. Full of flavour, this is astonishing for a 2.8% beer. I do hope this starts a trend. Lower alcohol beer means lower tax, and is a driver-friendly alternative. Kudos to Kernel for a great beer.
Having been a little disappointed with the Thornbridge Lumford, I was determined to recover Thornbridge’s reputation in my own eyes. Fortunately, another beer on offer allowed me to do that. Thornbridge Seaforth is a strong ale (5.9%) with a warm orange colour. There was a slight whiff of sweaty socks about this beer, but only very slight. The mouthfeel is pretty smooth, and the flavour is well-rounded with some nice fruitiness. Good.
With Thornbridge back in its rightful place, I chose my final beer for this festival. I decided on Blackedge Stout. Blackedge brewery is in Horwich, pretty local to me, so I feel a strange sort of parochial patriotism when I see one of their beers on a bar. I’d not had their stout before, so was keen to try it. It proved to be a fine way to finish. The ABV is 4.5, spot on for a stout, and the colour is black, likewise. The mouthfeel is smooth, as it should be, with well-balanced roasted malt flavours. Excellent, I’ll be looking out for this one.
With that we were done at the Dulcimer, and prepared to leave for a short pub stroll before going home. We had been very impressed with the pub and its staff. All the bar staff were knowledgable and friendly. Beer served with a smile always tastes better. I cannot for the life of me imagine why this excellent watering hole is not listed in the Good Beer Guide. I will be returning to the Dulcimer.
On to another couple of pubs now, but that must wait for another day.
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