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Tasting Beer for Sainsbury’s

Every year, Sainsbury’s invite customers to have a say in what beers the supermarket will be selling the following year. They call it the Great British Beer Hunt. This year I was fortunate enough to be one of those beer testers. The event took place in the Salford City Reds Rugby Stadium in Eccles, Manchester.

I arrived on time at 2pm and after a short introduction, we were given our scoring cards and asked to start. There were 23 bottled beers on offer, of which we had to choose eight, and of those eight, vote for four. In no particular order, I chose Two Roses First Edition, Weetwood Eastgate, Cropton Yorkshire Moors, Little Valley Stoodley Stout, Cropton Blackout, Little Valley Tods Blonde, Bateman’s Mocha and Cropton Madman’s Slaughter.

The bottles line up

I took my tray to the bar where the chosen beers were served into small plastic beakers. I also sampled different beers from my mate’s tray.

Eight beers for judging

When it came to voting, the eight that I picked, two immediately presented themselves as winners, but then I was left with the decision of which two out of three very good beers I was going to vote for. In the end, my votes went to the following four beers:

Two Roses First Edition, a 4% golden ale with a lovely pale yellow colour. The smell was bright and hoppy, and the taste was wonderfully fruity and hoppy with plenty of grapefruit pith. This beer just blew me away, I really hope it gets selected, as it would be perfect for a summer’s afternoon. A truly wonderful beer.

Little Valley Stoodley Stout. I recently had this beer on tap at the Port Street Beer House in Manchester – see here. It’s a 4.8% stout, just about black in colour with a fine brown head. The taste is rich, sweet, malty and dark with some smoke and a touch of dryness. The mouthfeel is distinctly creamy. A fabulously complex taste.

Cropton Blackout. A 5.0% porter. I had this from the cask at last year’s York Beer Festival. My review of it is here. The bottle didn’t disappoint. The smell is inviting – sweet, toffee notes promising something really good. The taste includes toffee and chocolate hints with a smooth, dryish finish. Beautiful.

Bateman’s Mocha. With a name like ‘Mocha’, there’s a certain expectation of what it’s going to taste like. And yes, it does. It’s a very dark brown in colour, 6% ABV. The smell is a subtle mix of chocolate and smoke, with the chocolate being dominant. The taste is very smooth and creamy with chocolate and dark coffee notes. It’s a stunningly good beer.

The one I had difficulty with and only dropped reluctantly, was Weetwood Eastgate, a beer I haven’t seen in bottles before (one of the stipulations for entry into the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt was that the beer should be new, or new to bottles). I’ve had it on draught, and the draught version is superb. Slightly deceptively, the beer looks like a fairly ordinary bitter, amber in colour, but the taste is utterly gorgeous – smooth, creamy, fruity, sweet and beautifully rounded. My difficulty is that the bottled version is not quite as good. It’s still very good, but perhaps lacking a little something that the cask version has.

Having cast our votes, we walked along a corridor into another large room, where ten brewers had stands and were offering tastes of their beer and were either giving bottles away free or selling them at a much reduced price. Brewers present were from Two Roses, Weetwood, Cropton, Little Valley, Bateman’s, Thwaites, Lees, Stringer’s, Beartown and Holts.

Beartown stand in the ‘Meet the Brewer’ room

I spent longer in that room than I did in the tasting, and drank considerably more beer!The brewers were all very approachable and interesting, and I learned a lot from chatting with them.

Two Roses stand in the ‘Meet the Brewer’ room

In all this was a fantastic free way to spend an afternoon. I’ll be looking out for next year’s event, and booking my ticket early.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 18 May, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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The Port Street Beer House, Manchester

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.

Port Street Beer House

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.

Quantum Imperial Stout

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!

Stone Levitation

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.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 13 January, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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