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The Dulcimer Real Ale Festival

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.

Dulcimer Ext

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.

Dulcimer Int 1

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.

Dulcimer Int 2

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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Posted by on 28 May, 2013 in Beer Festivals, Pubs

 

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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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Marble Brewery and the Marble Arch Inn, Manchester

Five minutes walk up Rochdale Road out of the centre of Manchester will bring you to a wonderful looking marbled Victorian street corner pub with an impressive columned entrance. Although the houses that defined the street corner have now long gone, along with the pub’s original clientele – the occupiers of those houses – the Marble Arch now casts a wider net, gaining appreciative customers from far and wide.

The Marble Arch Inn

Walking through the impressive columns, you enter a superb, high vaulted room, lined with glazed brick, topped with a frieze of glazed tile describing the drinks on offer. This is a spectacular piece of surviving Victoriana. The roof is also of yellow glazed bricks, gently vaulted. The floor quickly grabs your attention. It has been laid level with the side street outside, which as you can see from the picture above, is on a slope, so if you have any difficulty finding the bar, don’t worry – gravity will help. The bar fills a corner opposite the door at the far end (i.e. the bottom) of the room.

The Marble Arch is, of course, home of the Marble brewery, which opened here in 1997, though the actual brewing now takes place in Marble’s new, larger brewery a couple of streets away. Marble brewery has an emphasis on the natural, brewing organic and vegan beers as part of its mainstay.

On my visit there between Christmas and the New Year, seven of Marble’s brews were available – Bitter, Chocolate Marble, Stout, Ginger Marble, Dobber, Lagonda and Utility IPA.

I started with a Chocolate Marble. This is a wonderful, warming beer, black in colour with a comforting 5.5% of alcohol. It has a dark, coffeish flavour with a smooth chocolate undertaste plus a generous dash of smoke. A perfect start to the session.

Marble Bitter is a pale yellow, 4.2% beer. The ABV is typical of best bitters and the colour is more in tune with a modern golden ale, highlighting the difficulty with pigeonholing beers these day, a state of affairs that you may regret or rejoice in. When does a golden become a bitter? A bitter a best? A mild a porter? A porter a stout? Marble Bitter not only looks like a golden ale, it tastes like one, too. There’s a distinctly hoppy smell, and the taste contains a lot of light, upfront hops. It’s very drinkable and goes down very easily.

Dobber is a stronger ale, one of those that defies pigeonholing. It’s quite strong at 5.9% and has a very pale orange colour. The taste starts with tart grapefruit and leads to a bitter middle and finish. The aftertaste is long and bitter. If you like your beers strong flavoured and bitter, then this is for you.

Stout is clearly within the traditional classification. It’s 4.7% and an impenetrable black in colour. Smooth and malty with tantalising bitter notes, this warming beer has a long finish, which introduces a growing smokiness. Superb.

Finally for this session, I tried the 6.5% Utility IPA. Mid yellow with a thick creamy head, Utility has an unusual peach or nectarine aroma, which invites further investigation. This beer is astonishingly smooth, the dominant flavours being citrus pith and hops. The flavour is very rounded and ends with a good bitter finish. Be warned – this strong ale goes down somewhat too easily, belying its high ABV!

To conclude then, the Marble Brewery and the Marble Arch Inn make a terrific combination. Wonderful ale served in wonderful surroundings. If you’re sampling the inns of Manchester, this one should be high on your list of must-visits.

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 6 January, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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