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Neil Sowerby’s May 2013 Beer Column

Our own original Hopper finds arty labels just the ticket

Written by . Published on May 13th 2013.

Neil Sowerby’s May 2013 Beer Column

CALL me old-fashioned but I’d always worked on the assumption that what’s in the bottle is more important than what the label looks like. The term ‘brand conscious’ brings out the Luddite in me when applied to ale. 

Another real ale fixture is celebrating his own anniversary. CAMRA stalwart John Clarke has spent 25 years editing the Campaign’s local mag Opening Times and has seen many changes. 

But increasingly bottles of beer are design-led, mini-artworks. From the wonderful Beermoth Northern Quarter bottle shop I bought a couple of Flying Dog beers for an arty pal’s birthday purely because Ralph Steadman created the subversive labels, telling myself that the Maryland Brewery’s choice of names ‘Raging Bitch’ and ‘Doggie Style’ (the latter now a Gordo fave) was steeped in irony as well as hops. 

Doggie Style by SteadmanDoggie Style by Steadman

That’s from this CAMRA member who has always been appalled at sexist pump clips flaunting buxom blondes – ‘just a bit of fun’ from un-reconstituted trad cask brewers. Not that sexist gallantry didn’t co-exist. I always remember the MD of a well-known Lancashire brewery offering a pint-loving girl friend a small goblet of Pils, telling her: “That’s more of a lady’s drink.” 

Today, though, clever design is as much part of the new craft brewers’ package as a  slavish devotion to New Zealand hops and a CAMRA-baiting reinvention of ‘keg’. 

Take TicketyBrew, a new Manchester brewery where the marketing background of Keri Barton seems as important as husband Duncan giving up his acting career to pursue his brewing dream. 

Only two beers are produced – a Pale Ale and a Belgian Trappist-style Dubbel, both in bottled versions only. Two things initially put me off the product: some firm called CarterWong Design were called in to handle the cute ticket-style labels and there’s a brand slogan: ‘TicketyBrew: where delicious is normal’. 

Fortunately the beers, which have swiftly reached a large number of outlets, stand up on their own right. The Pale Ale, made with British malt, American hops and Belgian yeast, combines an intrinsic bitterness with a delicate yeasty sweetness. Better still is the dark strong, Dubbel, which is spicy and fruity with a long, surprisingly hoppy finish. 

To find out where to buy (and admire the website) visit here. Expect to pay between £3.80 and £4.20 in bars for the 33cl bottles. Beermoth stock them for £2.50. 

Flying Dog is all Gonzo in-your-face, but it doesn’t have to be. Cult Californians Laguinitas strip their labels down to a kind of Hops of Wrath starkness. 

Lagunitas, taking the PilsLagunitas, taking the Pils

Over here I equally like the 50 shades of minimalism of such as Kernel and our own Marble or the floral subtlety, matching the beers they produce, of Thornbridge and RedWillow’s label art. 

Designer John Macklin, who worked with Peter Savile at Factory Records, designed the simple Marble look, but Huddersfield’s Magic Rock Brewing is even more rock ‘n’ roll – they hired Richard Norgate, designer of the Arctic Monkeys’ second album sleeve to create their distinctive 'evil clowns and A Clockwork Orange' style branding. 

The beer’s a bit psychedelic, too. Try the Dark Arts Surreal Stout, widely available around Chorlton and the NQ – all liquorice, chocolate, figs and a long, roasted finish or, if you can find it, Clown Juice: India Wit Ale. There’s Curacao orange and coriander there just like Hoegaarden-style Belgian wheat beer but heaps of American hops take it to a different level. 

Kernel %26#8211%3B Simplicity PersonifiedKernel – a simple folksy message

Expect to taste some of the Magic Rock range at a Meet The Brewer event devoted to them at The Beagle on Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton on Monday June 3. It starts at 7.30 and tickets are £8 advance and can be bought from the bar or by ringing 0161 881 8596. 

There’s a new beer champion in Chorlton to challenge The Beagle. The latest Font Bar is on old Iguana site opposite Unicorn on Manchester Road, Chorlton. Eight handpumps and 16 keg fonts make it a big player in an area, where bars rather than traditional pubs offer the best beer experience. 

Belated congratulations to a more traditional gem, The Eagle in Collier Street, Salford which has just celebrated its first birthday under the new regime, who also run The Castle in Oldham Street and The Parlour, Chorlton. A recent pint of Holt’s Bitter there was the best I’ve tasted in recent years. 

The Eagle dates back to 1848, which makes The Marble Arch (1888) on Rochdale Road a mere stripling, but that’s not stopping it celebrating its 125th birthday with its own beer festival from Thursday-Sunday, August 1-4. There’ll be commemorative limited edition brews (including a 125 Stout), from the Marble Brewery as well as more than 50 beers from the best craft brewers around, including Marble’s Dutch collaborators De Molen and Emelisse. 

The whole dynasty’s in town. Former Marble brewers Colin Stronge (now relocating from Scotland’s Black Isle Brewery to Buxton Brewery) and Dom Driscoll will be brewing a celebratory ale with another ex-Marbler Rob Hamilton at Blackjack. weekend tickets will costs £15, individual days £5 with pop-up food stalls and brewery tours throughout the weekend  For further details visit this link.

Another real ale fixture is celebrating his own anniversary. CAMRA stalwart John Clarke has spent 25 years editing the Campaign’s local mag Opening Times and has seen many changes. Pick up a copy of the May issue (it’s usually lying around the likes of The Eagle) and read his retrospective on the the first issue he edited. It’s sobering stuff. Its “Stagger” pub crawl focused on Ardwick, Brunswick and Chorlton-on-Medlock. All the pubs featured no longer exist. 

The Northern Quarter and Chorlton (again) team up on Thursday, May 30 when Beermoth and Hickson and Blacks cheeses presend a special Beer And Cheese Tasting at Dulcimer on Wilbraham Road. Tickets are £20. 

The same day the Stockport Beer And Cider Festival kicks off at Edgeley Park and runs until Saturday, June 1. Expect over 200 beers, ciders and perries plus food and live misic acts. There’s free entry to CAMRA members except Friday. For full details visit here.

Why not combine it with a visit to the new Robinsons Brewery Visitor Centre. For further details and to book a tour of this atmospheric brewery visit here.

Ticketybrew in the sunshineTicketybrew in the sunshine

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ChrisMay 21st 2013.

Neil - have you seen any of the Lagunitas beers on sale in the UK?

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