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Neil Sowerby's May Beer Column

All you need to know about beer in the region for at least three months

Written by . Published on May 12th 2014.

Neil Sowerby's May Beer Column

CRAFT beer shops are hopping up all over. I’ve heard encouraging reports about Great Ale Year Round inside the ‘Lifestyle Hall’ (sic) of the revamped Bolton Market. 

The City Arms owners have just taken over responsibility for the Briton's Protection which is great news.  

Dan and Gina Buck have tapped into the ale zeitgeist with an operation not unlike Boggart Hole Clough Brewery’s Micro Bar in Manchester’s Arndale Market. There’s a strong emphasis on local ales from the likes of Bank Top, Brightside and Dunscar Bridge, alongside interesting imported bottles. Opening times are obviously geared to the Market’s. 

Meanwhile in Uppermill another husband and wife team, Greg and Cath O’Neill have launched the Saddleworth Real Ale Shop. It’s so new I can’t find a website yet, but their Twitter address is @Saddyrealale and their real address is 72 High Street. On first glance, they are stocking lots of interesting stuff, including Fourpure from Bermondsey, Ticketybrew, Saltaire’s Smoked Porter and a large range from Marble, who have just scooped another award for their Dobber IPA.  

Great Ale Year Round


Great Ale Year Round - picture credit to Bolton Reviewed

Not content with scooping silver in the strong/bitter ale class (it is 5.9 per cent) at CAMRA’s 2013 Great British Beer Festival 2013, Dobber has just come first in the influential Beer O’Clock Show’s Top UK IPAs. Their guest writer got a bit carried away: ‘The Pacific hops and zesty bitterness are well-balanced by a robust malt character that puffs its chest out and resolves to stand its ground. In the background, tingling floral notes dance merrily round the mouth, weaving their way into an aromatic aftertaste.’ 

Dobber And Tee-ShirtDobber And Tee-Shirt

Legendary head brewer James Campbell may have departed, but Marble shows no signs of slipping under his replacement, Matthew Howgate (despite some grumbling among beer bloggers). Matthew was due to lead a tasting that night when I visited the third in my triumvirate of beer emporia, The Epicurean, a poncier name, appropriately for West Didsbury’s Burton Road gastro drag.  

The partnership running this, purely business this time, is Rob Loader and Simon Yarwood. I first met Rob when he helped launch Jackalope in Chorlton, one of those eclectic bars that kept the likes of Magic Rock and Marble in top condition. Chorlton, of course, has its own quality beer (and wine) bottle shop, Tiny’s Tipple, but there was obviously a hop gap in the market in Burton Road, to complement the fabulous Reserve Wines. 

The new venture at No 226 (opposite the Co-op) looks a surefire winner with a terrific array of the usual but always welcome suspects – Kernel, Thornbridge, RedWillow and hundreds more in bottle with the prospect of cask soon. “We are out in the suburbs, so can’t stock some of the rare, exotic beers you might find at Beermoth in the Northern Quarter, but we still have delicious surprises on the shelves,’’ said Simon. 

Simon Yarwood And Rob Loader In Their Craft Beer Shop, Rhe EpicureanSimon Yarwood and Rob Loader in their craft beer shop, Rhe Epicurean

They are teaming up with Volta bar across the road on Monday May 19 (7pm-9pm) for another fascinating, meet the brewer event – this time it’s with talented hophead Rik Garner of First Chop Brewing Arm. Tickets for the event at Volta are £10 in advance. Follow @EpicureanThe to find out more. 

Honey And Fig SaisonHighlight of my visit to The Epicurean was tasting a Higildy Figildy, Honey and Fig Saison. It’s a limited edition collaboration between Scottish brewery Alechemy and the brilliant Beavertown of East London, which is run by the equally brilliantly named Logan Plant, who got hooked on US craft beer while touring the States with his sixties-style psychedelic garage band.  Higildy Figildy (330ml bottle £2.90) is hardly rock and roll. It’s quit a delicate, refreshing version of this Belgian seasonal farmhouse style, its pear and citrussy edge softened by a hint of honey. Didn’t find the fig, though. 

Saisons come in many forms. It’s one of those benchmark tests for experimental new brewers. Rob Hamilton of Blackjack has risen to the challenge with his Red Rye Saison. It was tart and spicy, malty with hints of orange peel, finishing surprisingly bitter – and of course, reddish rather than the normal straw in hue. Oh and it topped 7 per cent ABV. 

Blackjack, formed only two years ago using old equipment from Marble, goes from strength to strength. I tasted the Saison at one of Port Street Beer House’s Meet The Brewer events, where the ‘act’ was Brad and Gaz from Newport, Gwent brewery Tiny Rebel. The range is well worth seeking out. 

Coming up soon at Port Street is an evening with the Founders Brewing Co from Grand Rapids, MIchigan (May 14) and the Cromarty Brewery (May 19). Tickets are £20 and £13 respectively.  

All this stuff is designed to keen your palate for their big gig of the year – the third Independent Manchester Beer Convention at Victoria Baths (October 9-12). It is deservedly a hot ticket. Both Saturday sessions sold out within four weeks of going on sale and Friday evening is close.  

Drink like a fish, have a night on the tiles...and so pun on at Victoria Baths


Drink like a fish, have a night on the tiles...and so pun on at Victoria Baths

Partner brewers have been announced: Huddersfield’s Magic Rock (High Wire, Bearded Lady and Circus of Sour), who provided a magical ‘gig’ in the Turkish Baths last year; East London’s  Beavertown, self-styled ‘Hand Crafters of Intoxicated Alchemistry’ famed for their Experimental Alpha Series and multi award-winning Derbyshire outfit Thornbridge. For more details and to book, visit here. 

Red Willow were prominent there last year. Mirthless will no longer be available this time. It’s a seasonal spring beer and one of their very best, which is saying something. I tasted this 3.9 per cent ABV moreish pale ale out at the Bull’s Head in Mobberley. It’s only around from March until the simco and citra hops it’s packed with run out. Now that’s what I call seasonality.

Another spring regular is CAMRA's ‘Mild Month every May’, to celebrate and support this Cinderella among British beer styles. Another Cheshire brewery, Dunham Massey Brewing Co are participating by brewing four separate milds brewed for May – from easy drinking Dunham Dark & Dunham Light, DBA (Dunham Brown Ale) a sweet, nutty more alcoholic variant and, of course, the multi-award winning Chocolate Cherry Mild. The brewery tap, Costello's Bar in Goose Green, Altrincham will be stocking the latter throughout May with the others intermittently. For more Make Mine Mild details visit www.camra.org.uk 

Mild merits only the merest of mentions in Mark Dredge’s fascinating new book, Beer And Food (Dog n Bone, £16.99). Ilkley Black, apparently, is the perfect match for Toad In The Hole. Use this lovely, nutty dark mild in the batter for the dish, suggests Mark, print crusader for the new ‘Craft Beer’. There’s usually a copy of his first hop opus, Craft Beer World, lying around in the BrewDog bar on Peter Street. It’ll give you a flavour of his style. 

Still on the CAMRA front, congratulations to The City Arms (pictured above) in Kennedy Street, city centre, named The Trafford and Hulme CAMRA branch pub of the year 2014. The City Arms owners have just taken over responsibility the Briton’s Protection, which is great news. This iconic Manchester hostelry was worth going for classic interior and whisky selection, but just didn’t keep its beer well enough. Expect a big improvement – in range, too, perhaps. 

News of the latest brewery on the block. Craftsman is working out of The Old Abbey Inn on Manchester Science Park. Head Brewer is Paul Scrimshaw, who used to run Lloyds in Chorlton and The Steamhouse in Sale. The latter has been serving his fledgling range, the next addition to which may be a little number called Manchester Curried Mile, describe as ‘an exotic blend of mango and ginger’. I must Rush Home to drink some. (Help me someone, Ed).  

Bottled Mirthless


Bottled Mirthless

Just in case, you had missed it, the Tour de France is only a couple of months away and the Yorkshire brewers have been competing for their own yellow jersey in the race to brew celebratory ales. Perhaps at various moorland refuelling stops they’ll be handing bemused cyclistes samples of Timothy Taylor’s Le Champion, Daleside Pedal Power, York Brewery’s Vlo City  or Copper Dragon’s Hill Hammer. Ilkley Brewery have even commissioned their own branded yellow cycling jerseys. 

Stage WinnerStage WinnerLight and refreshing should be the mantra for competitor and punter lining the course. Little Valley Brewery’s Stage Winner fits the bill – a 3.5% softly sweet pale blonde with a floral finish. It’s organic, too, like all the LV range. The brewery, sitting 1,000ft above sea level, between Halifax and Rochdale, is close to one of the more arduous Tour sections (July 6) – the Cragg Vale Hill Climb, England’s longest continuous gradient. Its Dutch brewer Wim van der Speck is no stranger to such calf-stretching. He met his partner, Sue, while cycling in Nepal.

I foresee more sport beer spin-offs. Moorhouse’s of Burnley have just rebranded their Premier Bitter Premiership Bitter with a suitable clip image of Turf Moor for the next couple of months in tribute to the football club’s promotion. Maybe it’s time to raise (or should that be sink) a Glass of 92 to David Moyes.

Finally, don't muss the Stockport Beer Festival, May 29-31 at Edgeley Park. 200 beers, ciders and perries, including exclusives and lots of entertainment. More details: www.stockportfestival.org.uk.

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