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Neil Sowerby's June Beer Column

Drinker pours out a pint of opinion

Written by . Published on June 23rd 2014.


Neil Sowerby's June Beer Column
 

 

THERE’S a new book out called The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer that grew out of a couple of bloggers’ irritation with the hophead hipster takeover of their beloved hop/malt  mixtures. It’s aiming to be a polemic in the steps of Steven Poole’s You Aren't What You Eat – brilliantly debunking snobbish foodie obsessions. Alas, Unbearable Nonsense is just that, a blunt rant.
Rob has collaborated with Michelle Kelsall of Crewe’s Offbeat (label motto 'Great Beer Brewed By A Chick') to produce the Chorlton Beer Festival ale, St Clement’s. This is named after the venue and, you guessed it, is infused with oranges and lemons.
 
The fact is, ethics and health issues aside, it’s all really down to good food and bad food. Ditto with beer. Which is why I lament the almost Stakhanovite resistance within the Campaign for Real Ale to all craft beers that aren’t cask conditioned or are served via keg. There really is a place for both. If it tastes brilliantly, so what? Too cool is another matter. That numbs both nose and palate.
 
Let’s not forget, too, the expense of setting up. The price of equipment and casks. That was driven home to me the other day when I went for a crawl through the Brewery Quarter. Ok, I’ve just invented that for a clutch of small scale operations around Dantzic Street – Marble, Blackjack and Runaway, but you get my drift. Manchester has more than four quarters. The culinary colonisation just off St Peter’s Square is already dubbing itself the Cooper Street Quarter.
 
I primarily went to see how Mark Welsby (main picture above) is getting on and came away with four bottled beer samples from his Runaway Brewery that represent the first batch ready to face the public. Mark’s not quite sure where yet. It’s all such early days. I have to wait several days for the Smoked Porter and the IPA to mature in bottle. I’ll report back. The Pale Ale, 4.7 ABV and dominated discreetly by the orange peel freshness of its Citra and Mosaic hops, was ready and splendidly refreshing. I also tried their American Brown Ale (5.7) that was nearly there and another excellent manifestation of the Stateside food-driven style, hop bite behind the mellow malts.
 Runaway brews

Runaway brews 

It’s in this form and via key keg that you are going to discover Runaway. Mark and business partner Darren Clayson (still based in the pair’s native Northamptonshire) bought second hand equipment from Bespoke in the Forest of Dean, when they upgraded. Investment in casks – and cleaning equipment for them – is a step too far at the moment despite both coming to beer via real ale.
 
Old Trafford-based Mark is a former engineer/landscape architect. He was happy to run away from the day job – hence the name. The website is still in embryo. Twitter is @RunawayBrewery.
 
A mere firkin roll away in Irk Street is Blackjack Brewery, click here. Like Runaway and the equally excellent First Hop Brewing Arm over in Salford it’s located in an old railway arch, supposedly excellent for temperature control. 
Blackjack's outdoor bar

Blackjack's outdoor bar

 
With his hippy hair and beard Rob Hamilton may look laidback, but he is a hyperactive, innovative brewer, using equipment purchased from his old employer’s, nearby Marble. In Blackjack’s two years in existence he has unleashed a series of of one-off brews alongside seven regulars such as Aces High and Double Bluff, both classic takes on bitter/pale ale. 

Rob_Hamilton,_Right,_With_Sidekick_Rich[1]Rob Hamilton, right, with sdekick, Rich 

When I dropped by, he was planning a lemongrass flavoured Belgian-style wheat beer as well as organising a clear up of the premises ahead of their next monthly Brewery Tap weekend on Friday, June 27 to Sunday, June 29. There’ll be food and additional ale from breweries Rob has distribution deals with, notably Somerset’s stand-out Moor.
 
You’ll get to sample a Blackjack one-off the following weekend at the 10th Chorlton Beer and Cider Festival. Rob has collaborated with Michelle Kelsall  of Crewe’s Offbeat (label motto 'Great Beer Brewed By A Chick') to produce the festival ale, St Clement’s which, you guessed it, is infused with oranges and lemons.
 
It’s called St Clement’s because the Edge Lane church has been the festival venue since its inception. This year there’ll be 90 plus cask ales on offer plus bottled beers and over 50 ciders and perries along with food and live music. The big change this year is the extra day to cope with the 4,000 thirsty punters expected. It runs from Thursday, July 3 to Saturday July 5. Entry £10 plus £4 beer tokens and souvenir glass. For full details visit here.
 
Squawk is an odd name for a brewery. (I’ll find out) It’s a one-man operation run by former chef Oliver Turton in premises near Ardwick Station. I caught up with it in bottled version (at £3.50 for 3.33cl) at the Beermoth bottle shop in Tib Street, Northern Quarter, which carry a representative  local section beside all the arcane imports.
 
Squawk Pale Ale (4.9ABV) and India Pale Ale (6.2ABV) were equally attactive, the Pale Ale perhaps the better balanced. The IPA was grapefruity, with marmalade there too, and quite bitter. The Pale Ale was drier, biscuity and more refreshing. Classy-looking bird labels make them stand out on the shelves.

 Squawk birds - tweet it

Squawk birds - tweet it 

The Epicurean bottle shop, West Didsbury, which I featured in my May column is going from strength to strength. They are teaming up with the equally abundant Reserve Wines, further up Burton Road, for a Wine And Beer Summer Festival on Friday 27 June. Such grape meets grain collaborations are quite unusual and the quality of the suppliers makes the £20 ticket a bargain. It’s at Didsbury Rugby Club on Ford Lane (M20 2AR) from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. Tickets from either shop.
 
More modest (and also unticketed) the following weekend (July 10-12) is Salford’s New Oxford Beer Festival. You can expect 50 cask ales, curry on the Friday and a barbecue on the Saturday, in this Bexley Square real ale bastion with a continental look tucked just off Chapel Street.
 
I don’t expect every new Northern Quarter bar to sport a range even close to, say, Port Street Beer House, but it was a mite dispiriting to see the latest arrival on the overcrowded block to be offering safe, mainstream craft bottles such as Brew Dog, Goose Island IPA and Anchor Steam, all at over £4 a bottle. Wouldn’t it be great if the likes of Squawk and Runaway could find room on the shelves, too. C’mon, lads.
 
I did find a couple of oddball bottles in unlikely places recently. All Star Lanes, the bowling alley with excellent food on Peter Street, came up with a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Heffeweizen from Mexico. Costing £5.50, it’s a 5.5 per cent German style wheat beer, orangey and spicy.
 
More bizarrely, Teacup on Thomas Street, NQ, stock Chapel Down Curious Brew, a beer from the Kent winery of that name. I ordered it out of curiosity (sic) and because I do not share the owners’ obsession with tea. It’s a 4.7 per cent lager fermented with Champagne yeast apparently. It has won awards. Whether the hops used are Kentish I do not know. At £4.40 for a 33cl bottle, it was underwhelming. I’d suggest popping next door to Marble for a swig of their powerful Earl Grey IPA. Now that’s how to take tea.

 Nice design but not brilliant

Nice design but not brilliant 

Tour de France Beer That Deserves To Sport The Yellow Jersey
It has to be Timothy Taylor’s Le Champion, a 'French style Golden Ale' brewed with Alsace Strisselspalt hops and continental malts. A quencher. Perhaps it’s a little too soapy, sweet for the style. Personally, with my aversion to sweaty bollocks in lycra (Is that another name for a beer? Ed), I’ll be glad when it’s all over. Meanwhile, I’m sticking to cider – Sandford Orchards’ Bramley Swiggins Cider. Genius name. Nice with a vodka chaser.
 Bramley Swiggins - finest cycle and alcohol pun anywhere

Bramley Swiggins - finest cycle and alcohol pun anywhere

You can follow Neil Sowerby on Twitter here.

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AnonymousJuly 7th 2014.

This sounds like a great book on beers. I shall use it as a guide whenever I go to a bar and nightclub. Best chill out places in Singapore www.blvd.sg/our-venues…

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Agreed, a right dump

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Who remembers The King? Now that was a pub, before the NQ was the NQ. No hipsters in there.

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Yet people pay 20 pounds plus for terrible American burgers at other places in the northern quarter…

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Particularly Canal street, I believe that someone saw a gay man and a lesbian down there last week.…

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