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The Salford City Reds Beer Festival

The Salford City Reds Beer Festival. Never heard of it? No, neither had I until I was told about it by one of the volunteers working there.

‘Salford City Reds’ is a rugby team. It used to be called simply ‘Salford’, but apparently rugby teams now have to have daft American-style names invoking a fierce animal or something. Salford thought long and hard and came up with the colour of their shirts. I would have preferred to see some sort of existential protest to the imposition of silly names, ‘Salford City Greens’, maybe, or ‘Part of Manchester Giraffes’, but that’s just me. It doesn’t affect the beer festival in any way, I’m just filling up space here.

Nice sunny concourse, but not exactly packed

Nice sunny concourse, but not exactly packed

It wasn’t just you and I who hadn’t heard of the festival either. Apparently we were in the vast majority, judging by the very low attendance that I observed on the 8th June when I was there. Immediately before going to the festival, we had been visiting friends who live a mile or so from the venue (Salford City Reds’ stadium, beside the M60 Manchester ring road). They had plans for the afternoon and were unable to attend the festival, but had they known anything about it, they would have attended. They live on a quiet side street, and although they had heard nothing about the beer festival just over a mile from their door, on the lamp-post outside their house was an advert for another beer festival – this one in Mottram, nearly 25 miles away. It’s all the more shame because they have two young children, and the Salford festival deliberately set out to be child-friendly.

I think the problems started with the Salford City Reds’ web page, where the beer festival was announced. I don’t know who wrote the piece, but what impression does “There will also be a wine bar for those with more refined tastes” give?

What the hell does “more refined tastes” mean? That people who drink beer do NOT have refined taste? The wine is (obviously) better than beer? That people who drink wine are better than people who drink beer? Leaving aside the incredible crassness of believing that wine is more ‘refined’ than beer, what does this say about the attitude of the hosts towards their prospective clients? It is stupid, prejudicial and insulting. Nice start.

I noticed that the Greater Manchester Ale News website subtly changed the official line, stating that there would be “a wine bar for those looking for a break from the ale.”

The day was sunny and hot, and the festival was being held in a room that opened up onto a wide concourse, allowing drinkers to sit in the sun and enjoy the heat. If you didn’t want to sit in the sun, there was seating elsewhere inside. I didn’t go searching, but I was told that it was available.

The bar. Well laid-out but deserted

The bar. Well laid-out but deserted

The bar took up one long side of the festival room. There were about 60 ales available. Quite ambitious for a start-up festival. The emphasis was very heavily on light, pale-coloured ales, though there were a few dark ales available. The festival was sponsored by Robinson’s, Stockport’s major brewer. I applaud them for that, but did we really need twelve Robinson’s beers on the bar, most of which were indistinguishable from each other in their blandness?

The heat was obviously causing some problems with the beer, and one of my favourites, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, was quite vinegar, and it had only been delivered the day before.

Other beers fared better though, and there were some good ones. Here are three that I particularly enjoyed:

Burscough Sutler’s IPA, a proper-strength IPA at 5.5%, this is strong and flavoursome. It is bitter with great hints of pithy grapefruit and bags of hops.

Front Row Collapsed, another real IPA, with an ABV of 5.6%, this has quite a strong taste – smooth, hoppy and good.

Privateer Dark Revenge, a 4.5% dark mild, full-bodied with heaps of dark malty flavour.

We were approached by one of the organisers, who asked if we were CAMRA members as he really wanted the opinions of people familiar with real ale and real ale festivals. He was clearly disappointed by the poor turnout. Whilst we were there, the attendance probably didn’t top fifty people. That was on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon. I mentioned that nobody seemed to have heard of the festival, to which he replied that 500 leaflets had been delivered to nearby houses. I could hardly believe that when he said it. 500? Was he expecting every single person who got a leaflet to come along and bring one or two friends? If that happened then maybe he would have got the numbers they really needed, but the return from a leaflet drop very rarely reaches 1%. So if he was lucky, the 500 leaflets would have generated 5 customers. He was clearly keen for the festival to be repeated in the future, but with such low attendance, I can’t imagine that it made a profit. Much beer will have been wasted.

That’s a pity, because the venue is good, the volunteers were very good, the organisation was also generally good, and clearly a great deal of work had gone into the preparation of the festival. If the Salford City Reds Beer Festival is to have a future, and I genuinely hope that it is, then massive publicity will be necessary, not 500 leaflets.

Oh yes, and sack the clown who wrote the article on the website.

Nice day for it

Nice day for it

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Posted by on 27 July, 2013 in Beer Festivals

 

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Golden Ales – BORING!

My foray around the northeast of England highlighted several things to me. Firstly, the northeast has a very active, lively and healthy beer scene. Secondly, there are some superb microbreweries operating in this region. Thirdly, this region has some of the best pubs I’ve ever been in. Fourthly, Golden Beers are mostly desperately boring.

This fourth point is not so much a result of location as of timing. I was touring the area in late summer/early autumn, and all the ‘summery’ beers were still to the fore. This period seems to last longer each year, as people desperately try to hang on to summer – like those people who whinge and moan every year when the clocks go back to ‘winter’ time. It’s not winter time at all, it’s our natural time. Summer time does not make the evenings longer – you just get up an hour earlier. Likewise, golden beers do not make a summer – as has been amply demonstrated this year.

I’ve long been suspicious that breweries are making use of this relatively new style in order to brew cheap and uninteresting beers. My thoughts on this crystallised during my sojourn in the northeast, when faced with yet another barful of the insipid things. I am instinctively wary of any beer labelled ‘So-and-so Gold’ or ‘Golden Something’. The inclusion of the reference to that precious metal is often a clear indication of yet another boring beer. I mean even the names lack imagination.

I didn’t start off my relationship with golden ales with such negativity. It was a long time ago, but I think my first golden ale was Hop Back Summer Lightning.  I was, and remain, very impressed with that. Other goldens have also wowed me, such as Slightly Foxed Bengal Fox, Oakham White Dwarf, Oxfordshire Pride of Oxford (strangely, not so good in bottles) and Red Lion Chardonnayle, to name but four at random.

Like any style, I suppose, there is a wide range in the taste and quality of golden ales, and I am expressly not aiming my comments at those brewers who heap as much care and passion into their golden ales as they do into all their other beers.

Is the golden ale a fad? I think maybe there’s a touch of that about it, but it’s here to stay. Originally, the golden ale was perhaps invented (some time in the mid 1980s by most people’s reckoning; Exmoor brewery claim that their Exmoor Gold – a fine brew by any standards – was the first) to tempt the lager drinker away from their nasty mass-produced tasteless product and to present them with something that looked more like what they were used to drinking. You won’t get a lager drinker to try his first pint of real ale if it’s a heavy porter or a strong stout, the shock of the difference will be too great. But present a real ale that looks lagerish, then you’ve won the first battle.

Does it then follow that the second battle should be about taste? Yes it does. A fine, crisp, hoppy mouthful is what you should expect, but some brewers seem to have taken the line that if making their golden ale look like lager wins the first battle, then making it taste the same by the simple expedient of removing almost every last vestige of flavour, should win the second. The trouble is that nobody is going to go for that. The adventurous lager drinker may try a dull golden, be unimpressed by the absence of taste (he was told to expect so much more), and return to his usual ‘product’. The real ale drinker will be equally unimpressed (he’s used to so much more).

I am sure that I am not alone in disliking having to strain to get any taste from beer. Comments like ‘a bit hoppy, but only a bit’, ‘flavours all rather muted’, ‘slight hoppiness at the end, but not much’ and ‘slight hops fail to get a grip, not much flavour’ pepper my notes from my northeast tour.

A golden ale should not taste like a failed IPA, as many of these do. According to the 2013 Good Beer Guide, in a golden ale ‘…hops are allowed to give full expression, balancing sappy malt with luscious fruity, floral, herbal, spicy and resinous characteristics.’ That’s a tall order, and many very decent golden ales only get some of those, but it’s a hell of a long way from ‘a bit hoppy, but only a bit.’

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Posted by on 25 October, 2012 in Beer Styles, Cask Ale

 

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The Victoria Inn, Durham

My recent trip round the northeast of England took me to many fine pubs. When arriving in a new region, I always like to pick up a copy of the local CAMRA magazine. I find that the articles and adverts give me a good feel for the local beer scene, and some excellent ideas for pubs to visit during my stay. When I arrived in the Durham branch’s region, I quickly found a copy of the Durham Drinker, their publication. I was delighted to see that it was their Awards Issue in which they listed the winners and runners-up of the various awards given by the branch, including the Durham Pub of the Year.

This year, the POTY was won (not for the first time) by the Victoria Inn on Hallgarth Street in Durham itself. Hallgarth Street is a residential street running out of the town towards the south. The Victoria itself is a somewhat unusually shaped brick-built Victorian pub. It’s a grade-2 listed building, and the fact that its interior is virtually unchanged since its construction in 1899 has earned it a place on CAMRA’s National Inventory of historic pub interiors.

All of the above meant that the Victoria hit the top of my ‘must visit’ list for Durham. On arrival, I found the Victoria to be busy and full of animated conversation. Lady A and I found a bench to sit on and we sat for a few moments taking in the atmosphere. The internal fittings retain a real 19th century look and feel, and I felt that I was but a whisper from that time. The clientele was very varied; I saw a gentleman who must have been 80 years old having a conversation with an attractive young woman, a man in a business suit, a small group of matronly ladies and a gathering of what looked like post-graduate students – from their accents clearly gathered from all corners of the world.

All were enjoying beer from the many handpumps that lined the bar. I started with Durham White Velvet, a 4.2% golden ale. To be honest, the flavours here are all rather muted. There are slight hints of cream and a bit of citrus pith. It’s far from unpleasant, but there’s not a lot to make this beer stand out.

My second was Hambleton Nightmare, a 5.0% dark ale that is coloured a very deep red. This beer packs a great deal of flavour. There is a smooth mouthfeel with creamy notes of coffee and a mild chocolate finish. Along with the chocolate, the finish also packs a nice hoppy kick. Great stuff.

Third up was Wylam Gold Tankard, a 4.0% golden ale. Frankly, by this stage on my tour of the northeast, I was getting seriously tired with dull golden ales. This will be the subject of a future blog, but for now, suffice it to say that I found little to get my teeth into in this beer. It’s a little bit hoppy. Big deal.

Finally, I had a Big Lamp Bitter, at 3.9%, more properly a best. It’s a fairly standard best, probably with wide appeal. There’s a malty start and a hoppy finish. Perfectly drinkable and most likely would not have been out of place if served here in 1899.

Towards the end of the evening, the landlord came over to chat with us. I always like it when that happens. I started by congratulating him on his POTY win, but with the number of awards on the wall, this clearly wasn’t a new experience for him. He’d been running the pub for over thirty years, he explained. ‘I always like talking to customers, and for them to talk to one another. You see there’s no telly and no music, so people have to talk to one another.’

I found myself agreeing with him. I hate televisions in pubs. A big ‘Sky Sports’ banner is one of the best ways to repel me from a pub. I handed the landlord one of my cards and told him that I’d be writing about his pub in my blog. ‘Oh good,’ he said. ‘Don’t forget to mention me. My name’s Michael.’

Michael Webster clearly takes his pub and his beers very seriously. He’s a big supporter of local microbreweries and his list of ever-changing beers is impressive indeed. His insistence on having nothing in the pub to distract from conversation is refreshing and very welcome. In all, this is a great little pub, well deserving of its Durham Pub of the Year accolade.

http://www.victoriainn-durhamcity.co.uk/

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Posted by on 8 October, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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A Pub Crawl Round Sheffield – Part 5

This blog carries on from where I left off here.

The Shakespeare

Last time, I left my epic pub crawl round Sheffield at the famous Kelham Island Tavern. We now stretched our legs a little bit to get to the Shakespeare on Gibraltar Street. This pub has the sort of story behind it that just warms the heart. It was a noted live music venue, owned by Punch Taverns, who closed it early in 2010. After a period of 18 months, the pub was re-opened in July 2011 again as a live music venue and more importantly (for me, at least) as a true real ale pub. The man you should thank for this is William Wagstaff, the Shakespeare’s landlord.

To be honest, the Shakespeare is in a bit of a run-down area, and has a frontage that imposes rather than invites. Nevertheless, it is an impressive building (an 1820s coaching inn). Inside, it’s all wooden floors, wood panelling and a real feel of how pubs used to be. The rooms have been nicely refurbished and are full of interesting items. The seating consists of benches and stools. The bar is very impressive, with nine handpumps in use at the time of our visit.

We liked the Shakespeare, and so stayed for three rounds. I started with Craddock’s Saxon Gold. Craddock’s is a new brewer to me, they’ve only been brewing for about a year and are based in Stourbridge in the Midlands. If Saxon Gold is anything to go by, then I predict that they’ll be making big waves pretty soon. Saxon Gold is 4% golden ale, light and highly refreshing. The finish is excellent, hoppy and yet somehow almost sweet. Lovely stuff.

Next up was a brew from the local Steel City brewery, a 5.7% dark ale called A Slight Chance of Overhopping. I’ve had a number of these hoppy dark ales now, and I’m growing to like them very much. This one is dark in flavour with strong roasted maltiness coming out in the initial taste which then morphs into a good strong hoppy finish. It’s jolly good, but not, I think, overhopped.

The final offering from the Shakespeare was Rudgate Fuggle Trouble, a 3.6% bitter. This is where it all went a bit flat. Just not enough flavour. A bit of malt, a bit of hop. Big deal.

The Wellington

Onwards then. The next pub was the Wellington, a traditional Victorian end-terrace street-corner boozer, and what a little gem. It has its own in-house brewery, Little Ale Cart, and the bar positively bristles with ten handpumps. The landlord clearly supports small breweries, and I got to sample beer from more new-to-me brewers.

First was Newman’s Creative Cat. Newman’s is a joint enterprise with Celt Experience brewery of Caerphilly. Creative Cat is a mid-yellow coloured 4.3% bitter. It’s nicely hopped with a touch of graininess to the mouthfeel.

Essex brewer Mighty Oak provided the next jar, Enter the Dragon, a 4.5% porter. It packs a mouthful of roasted malt with a very pleasing smooth sweetness. I wanted another, but more curiosities awaited me on the bar.

The on-site brewery Little Ale Cart was represented by two beers on the bar. The first one I had was Gay Crusader (yes, really!), a 5% strong bitter. This is a smooth, full-bodied beer with a slight spirituous overtaste. Very nice – my list of beers to session on at a later date was growing steadily.

Little Ale Cart Lumley Castle was next, a 4.3% bitter. Quite a contrast to the previous bitter, this one was very mild flavoured. That is not to say it lacked flavour, because it didn’t. The hopping at the end was light and gentle.

For my last beer at the Wellington, I tried Millstone Vale Mill, another bitter, slightly lighter this time at 3.9% – session ale strength. Vale Mill is light, fruity and refreshing. The taste turns gently to hops providing a light, creamy finish. Three bitters, all quite different from each other.

The Gardner’s Rest bar

Our next port of call (some distance away) was the superb Gardner’s Rest, on the wonderfully named Neepsend Lane. The main bar area is light and airy and there are comfortable seating areas to the rear of the pub. A mannikin sits, looking rather bored, at one of the tables. The bar is well stocked, with eight handpumps and three fizz dispensers. The Gardner’s Rest is the brewery tap for the Sheffield Brewery, and four of its beers – Porter, Five Rivers, Crucible Best and Seven Hills were on offer. Being something of a contrarian, and because I was a bit cold after the hike through the chilly streets of Sheffield, I opted for a Bingham’s Hot Dog, a 5% chilli stout. Just what the doctor ordered. It is rich and malty with a strong chilli flavour to put a bit of fire into the coldest of bellies. Great stuff.

Bored mannikin

Hunger gripped us at this stage, and we repaired to the Hillsborough Hotel on Langsett Road for food. After a very satisfying meal, we caught a tram for the seven thousand mile trip back to our hotel.

Coming next… the final three pubs!

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Posted by on 28 August, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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Three Bottled Beers from Stringer’s

The watchword at Stringer’s Brewery in Ulverston in Lancashire is “renewable”. The microbrewery (which they helpfully define as “like a big brewery but much smaller” on their bottle labels) is powered entirely by renewable energy. They’ve been around for about four years now, and are starting to have a real impact. All their beers are based on Maris Otter malt, whole flower hops and Lakeland water. Personally, I have had eight of their beers from the cask and three from bottles. I’m going to concentrate on these last three. None of these is bottle conditioned.

I’ll start with Stringer’s XB (4.2%), which as you would expect from its name is a best bitter. In fact, although the bottle is labelled XB, this is called Stringer’s Best Bitter when it comes from the cask. It’s a mid-orange in colour and the bottle produces a thin head. The smell combines a warm maltiness with nice flowery hops. The overriding taste is of the bittering hops – there is a real abundance of hop flavour which grows and grows through the taste. At the finish it almost tastes like quinine. The malt is detectable as a small undertaste. The cask version produces a more flowery dry finish, but either way, this is a beautiful beer.

Next, Stringer’s Dry Stout (no picture of this one, sorry). This has a respectable ABV of 4.5% and pours black. It is dark and deeply malty with delghtful hints of toffee, coffee and chocolate. The dryness becomes most apparent in the finish. Lovely.

Finally, we move on to the strongest of the three. Stringer’s IPA has an ABV of 5.5%, and packs a huge wallop of taste. It starts spicy and peppery, growing through a real orange marmalade middle and finishing with very strong floral hops at the end. A whole array of fantastic flavours in one mouthful. I love a complex beer, and I love this.

www.stringersbeer.co.uk

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Posted by on 26 August, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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Teme Valley This & That

Two bottled beers to be reviewed today, both from the Teme Valley brewery. The labels are nicely uniform and quite attractive, in an understated way. The beers are called This and That, and were drunk side by side. Both beers are bottle conditioned.

‘This’ is a 3.7% brew, the label does not inform as to what type of beer it is, but I would class it as a bitter. It’s orange in colour. There’s a certain maltiness to the smell. The flavour is dominated by an initial malt taste which is followed (just) by a slight hoppy bitterness. I’m afraid that’s about all I can say. There’s nothing really to hang a review on to here. It’s one of those beers that just tastes like beer.

And so on to its sister brew, ‘That’. ‘That’ is a 4.1%… well, I’m going to say ‘bitter’ again. It presents an orange colour that may be a shade darker than This, but only just. ‘That’ is slightly smoother than ‘This’. There is a certain bitterness that fades away very quickly, leaving virtually no aftertaste. I’m sorry, you can probably tell that I’m struggling to say anything about these two beers. The fact is that there really is very little to say. This and That are two beers which fall into the ‘OK, but not special’ category. What’s more, they are so similar to each other that they barely deserve separate names.

What is the point? These two beers have very similar ABVs, are almost identical in colour and barely distinguishable in taste and it has to be said, both equally dull. Sorry, Teme Valley, but if you want to set the beer world rocking, you’re going to have to do better than This. Or That.

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Posted by on 25 July, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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Quick Review: Tetley Trust Porter

Tetley Trust Porter

‘What was that?’ You ask. ‘A porter from Tetley?’ Well, for my money, now that Tetley has been completely bought out by Carlsberg and the historic brewery in Leeds now sits abandoned and decaying, Tetley no longer exists, despite the continued use of the logo by Carlsberg UK. Anyhow, Carlsberg has produced this limited edition beer with the intention of giving 10p for every bottle sold to the Help for Heroes charity, which does great work for soldiers wounded in current conflicts. The label on the bottle informs us that Carlsberg hopes to raise £100,000 from sales of this beer, which is available on tap and in bottles. This is all very well and good, and most certainly a worthy cause. You may think that Carlsberg has ample funds simply to give the charity the money without the necessity of boosting their own profits at the same time. You may wonder about the moral rectitude of buying anything produced by this Fizz Monster. That’s your choice.

What of the beer itself? It is a very dark red in colour with an off-white head that remains (albeit thinly) right to the bottom of the glass. The beer is quite smooth. The dominant flavour is chocolate (though it is by no means massively chocolatey) with some fruitiness and there is an underlying malty bitterness. The finish is quite dry with a hint of smoke and a whisper of dry earthiness.

I was quite prepared to poo-poo this beer when I saw it, but it is surprisingly good. Not of the first rank of porters, maybe, but a good effort. If only it was brewed by Tetley!

The Help for Heroes website is here – www.helpforheroes.org.uk

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Posted by on 23 July, 2012 in Bottled Beer

 

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