Bar Buzz EXTRA – March 2020

Flixton & Urmston

The team behind Urmston’s BrewChimp bar have opened a second outlet in nearby Flixton.

The new BrewChimp is located at 432 Flixton Road opposite Flixton train station in what was previously Bistro 432 and before that AT’s Café. It follows a similar beer / wine bar hybrid model to the Urmston original.

A small bar sits at the far corner as you enter with four handpumps serving two beers from Beartown, one of which is the house BrewChimp Session ale and two guests. CAMRA members are offered a 10% discount on cask ales.

The bar has launched a regular series of Foodie Thursdays where they welcome a local independent street food trader to serve up food to accompany your drinks.

BrewChimp Flixton ©BrewChimp

Urmston’s The Assembly recently celebrated its second birthday. After completing an initial arrangement with Thornbridge Brewery, it is now sourcing cask ales from a wide range of breweries both local and national and has plans to add a third cask pump before the summer.

When Beer Buzz called the day before the second Birthday party, the two handpumps offered Tiny Rebel’s Pango and Pomona Island’s Session IPA (an early offer of the Pomona Island tap takeover planned for the birthday weekend). In keeping with the bar’s policy, both were on sale at keen prices for the local area.

The Assembly are also in the early stages of planning a nano-brewery for the bar. They plan to install a 100 litre brew kit (just over two 9 gallon casks or three 30 litre kegs per brew) on the bar’s upper floor and will add two additional keg lines to sell their own brew beers.

The bar has been voted as Trafford & Hulme CAMRA’s Pub of The Season for Spring 2020.

GRUB expansion

Street food and bar operator GRUB has raised over £18,000 to develop their Red Bank home (pictured below) through a crowdfunding campaign.

GRUB on Redbank ©Graham Donning

Plans to develop the space, on the outskirts of Manchester’s Green Quarter, include providing free space to charities and other groups who work to help the people of Manchester and provide opportunities for artists, makers and creatives to run events, workshops and exhibitions.

The funds will be used to build a new garden including a covered seating and workshop area using recycled materials. They will also develop a market hall to house a weekly arts market and build a 60-seater performance space.

GRUB also intend to develop their programme of free mentoring and training for amateur chefs looking to start a street food business. They will be investing in equipment to help them further this project including providing free training to potential operators.

New Scandi café bar for city

Beatnikz Republic Brewery’s owners are opening a new Scandi-style cafe bar on Spring Gardens in the city centre.

Lättsam, which means easy-going or light-hearted in Swedish, will serve ten lines of craft beer from Beatnikz Republic and Nordic breweries such as Lervig, Mikkeller and Dry & Bitter. There will also be artisan coffee, cocktails and natural wines.

There will be an all-day food offering starting with breakfasts, soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch and then an after-work meal menu.

Décor will follow the Scandinavian theme with pale concrete brickwork and splashes of timber.

Subject to planning and licensing, the café-bar should open late May or early June. Intended opening hours will be from 8am until late on weekdays, and 9am until later at weekends.

Fresh beer & bar billiards

The Smithfield Market Tavern has a brand new cellar install with six cask lines, one handpump cider line and thirteen keg lines replaced (including new handpulls on the bar)

©John O’Donnell

After being out of action for a couple of years, the pub’s bar billiards table is now back in operation. The traditional pub game was developed in the 1930s from the French/Belgian game billard russe. It is played on a table with no side or corner pockets but with nine holes in the playing surface which are assigned various point values ranging from 10 to 200. Seven white and one red ball must be potted through the holes to score points while not knocking down pegs which stand in front of the 100 and 200 point holes.

City Centre shorts

The Salisbury Ale House has been awarded the ‘Pint Perfection’ accolade at this year’s Star Pubs and Bars Awards. 2500 pubs from the Heineken owned pub chain were eligible for the award which recognises the highest standards of cellarmanship in keeping both cask and keg beers. The pub scored 10/10 in all ten of the judging criteria – faultless from the range of brands on offer, staff friendliness and product knowledge, to quality of serve and the fresh smell and taste of the beer.

Operations Manager Joe Gaskin and Bar Supervisor Jordan Murray
Photo © Bernard Platt

The Molly House on Richmond Street in the Village is planning a beer festival on the Spring bank holiday weekend (22 – 25th May).

Vegetarian Indian Street food restaurant and craft beer bar Bundobust have announced plans for a second restaurant in the city and that the new venue will include their own microbrewery. The group which began life in Leeds and now also has a restaurant in Liverpool has taken over a space known as The Cartway in the St James Building on Oxford Street (next door to the Palace Theatre). Formerly an indoor car park, the glass roofed restaurant will have space for 150 covers alongside the new Bundobust brewery. It is expected to open in May.

Trafford & Hulme shorts

Trafford & Hulme CAMRA named Hulme’s The Salutation as its Pub Of The Season for Winter 2019/20. The pub which is operated by Manchester Metropolitan University in partnership with Bollington Brewery was praised for serving top quality cask ales to a diverse clientele ranging from students, university staff and Hulme locals.

The Carter’s Arms in Northern Moor has introduced a discount on cask ales to card carrying CAMRA members who now receive 10% off.

Chorlton’s The Royal Oak may not be a pub where craft beer fans are likely to head to worship their DIPAs and TIPAs but it is attracting another kind of worshipper. Every Sunday morning, the function room at the Greene King owned pub hosts The Redeemer Church where the faithful gather together to sing songs, hear from the Bible & pray together.

The owner of Cumbria’s Fell Brewery has applied for a licence to open a bar in Chorlton. The premises at 518 Wilbraham Road, opposite The Lloyds pub, was previously women’s clothing store Freds.

The application plans to open a “relaxed and informal craft beer bar” with opening hours of 11am to 12:30am every day of the week.

Threatened Pubs

©Jon Gobett

The concerns over the future of The Stonemasons Arms in Timperley reported in the previous issue of Beer Buzz have been confirmed.

Continuing his brutally honest Facebook video updates, landlord Simon Delaney confirmed in January that the pub had been in difficulty, laying the blame firmly on the financial information provided by owners Greene King prior to signing a five-year lease in 2018 having massively understated the overheads of the pub.

Greene King went to court to get a repossession order on the pub but Simon and his partner Rachel, who also operate The Firbank Pub & Kitchen in Wythenshawe, remained in negotiations and hopeful of being able to reach agreement to continue at the pub.

However, on 20th February, Simon announced, in another emotional video blog, that they would be leaving the pub in April. Although committing to business as usual until they leave, they could not provide any information on what Greene King’s plans for the pub are.

Beer Buzz wishes Simon and Rachel all the best for the future and thanks them for their efforts during 18 months in Timperley. We continue to have concerns for the pub’s future under Greene King’s control who will now have seen three tenants walk away in three years.

The Railway in Broadheath remains closed while the building’s owners and potential tenant negotiate on who is to pay for sorting out the building’s aged electrical system.

The Grade II listed pub which sits on the edge of Altrincham’s massive retail park is included on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors ( which describes it as “an unpretentious Victorian pub”. The cut and etched glass door panels, fixed seating, bell pushes and the curvaceous panelled counter in the drinking lobby are all considered of significant historical worth.

Railway – Vault ©Mick Slaughter LRPS

Trafford & Hulme CAMRA submitted an application to have the pub listed as an Asset Of Community Value (ACV) on 4th December. Trafford council have once again failed to meet the expectations of national guidelines which say that a determination should have been made by 29th January. As Beer Buzz went to press (two weeks after that date), CAMRA had only just received acknowledgement of the application.

Regular readers will know that it took Trafford Council over six months to list Stretford’s The Robin Hood as an ACV. The developer who owns the building appealed against the listing but at a hearing in January attended by representatives of applicants The Friends Of The Robin Hood and CAMRA, their appeal was dismissed.

The Robin Hood ©Bob Dunbar

The planning application to turn the pub building into eleven apartments and build ten houses on the car park was suddenly and unexpectedly withdrawn in early February. It is not known what the developers next move will be but local campaigners continue to make the case for at least some of the building being retained for use by the community.

The fight to save Hulme’s The Church Inn goes on. The former JW Lees pub has been closed for a number of years with developers hoping to build a tower block of apartments for students on the site. After a previous application was rejected, revised plans lowering the height of the tower were submitted bt at a hearing on 13th February, the Planning & Highways committee recommended refusal on the grounds of overdevelopment and loss of local amenity.

Pub becomes laughing stock

A new comedy night at Chorlton’s The Font bar became rather more successful than anticipated.

The January debut of a monthly night of jokes and laughter at the Manchester Road bar was a total sell out, so much so that the bar had to be closed to non-ticket holders for three hours on a Monday evening.

The next night will be held on March 16th with Vikki Stone –  “The bastard love child of Victoria Wood & Tim Minchin”, comedian Steve Royale & Resident MC Tony Vino. The date for April’s night has yet to be confirmed but is expected to be Monday 20th April.

Lee’s tame the Lion

Middleton brewer JW Lees has bought Withington’s Red Lion from Marston’s. The extended former coaching inn on Wilmslow Road between Withington & Didsbury dates from the 17th Century. It features a bowling green surrounded by an extensive outdoor seating area which makes this a popular pub in summer.

Apart from a new menu and the installation of Lees’ beers on the bar, there have been no major changes as of yet, although locals have reported beer prices have increased.

One less slice of Pi

While outside of the Beer Buzz area, we were saddened to hear that Pi (Rose Lane), the Liverpool suburban sibling of Pi Altrincham and Pi Chorlton closed on 31st January due to what a statement on their Facebook page called “a sudden and unexpected surge in overheads”. Opening in 2011 as the second Pi bar , it was a Good Beer Guide regular which regularly saw Liverpool beer lovers make the pilgrimage out to Mosley Hill. The standing room only closing night was testimony to how highly regarded the bar was.

The closure does not affect the Chorlton and Altrincham bars and while describing the decision to close the Liverpool venue as “heart wrenching”, the owners have indicated that they are working on a plan to stay in the area.

Talking Tech – Beer Clarity

Beer – not as crystal clear a subject as it used to be….  

In the ‘craft beer boom’ which has taken place over the last few years, few subjects have resulted more discussion between traditional ale lovers and ‘craft’ beer fans than the clarity of their beer.

In the early days of CAMRA and for decades following, the vast majority of cask ale was expected to be presented crystal clear and any pint that was presented with even the slightest haze was assumed to either not be ready for serving or to have a brewing fault.

Recent trends have changed this with more and more beers intentionally presented with a haze and some even positively opaque – their brewers either stating a desire to make their beers suitable for vegetarians or some arguing that the particles which cause haze also enhance flavour and aroma.

Left – Cloudwater 5th Birthday IPA. Right – Wylam Hickey The Rake

Historically, the clarity of beer was not of a concern to drinkers – when most beer was drunk from metal, earthenware or leather tankards, the drinker was only concerned with taste. It was only the move to serving beer in clear glass following the industrialisation of brewing in the late 18th century when drinkers started paying attention to clarity. Marketeers then latched on to this and began selling sparkling bright beers as the norm.

Brewery conditioned beers which could be filtered to achieve clarity had no problem living up to this expectation but cask beers – requiring yeast in the cask to achieve secondary fermentation, meant brewers had to find alternative means of achieving clarity.

Given that beer is produced from a variety of solid materials – malted barley, wheat, hops and yeast – it should not come as a surprise that the immediate result of the brewing process is not a clear liquid. It is only by the intervention of the brewer at several stages in the brewing process that clear beer can result.

What’s your haze?

Haze and cloudiness in beer can be caused by one of a few things. Biological hazes are caused by bacteria resulting from infection in the process – they cannot be corrected. Non-biological hazes result from particles introduced from the brewing ingredients – yeast, proteins, polyphenols (mostly tannins) and carbohydrates (mostly starch) from the grains and hops.

Although popular belief would be that hazy or even cloudy beers are ‘full of yeast’, an unclarified beer sample will typically contain between 0.5 to 2 million yeast cells per millilitre and between 1 and 3 million particles of other materials.

The higher hopping rates and the increased use of dry hopping (adding hops direct to the fermenter) over recent years has only increased the amount of non-yeast particles in beer. Some brewers of hazy beers would contest that they go to great expense adding hops to beer to give aroma and flavour so, to them, it is counter-intuitive to then go to further expense to remove the results of this hopping from the finished product.

Hops – lots of hops ©CAMRA

Other commentators would argue that not taking measures to remove haze from beer is an example of lazy brewing or that it is a cost cutting measure.

Controlling the haze

While yeast is added relatively late in the brewing process, the process of controlling the number of suspended particles in beer starts much earlier – even before the mash.

The calcium content of the liquor (water) used for brewing plays a part, as does the quality and type of grains used – wheat contains much higher levels of proteins than barley, making beers containing wheat harder to clear.

Control of pH (acidity) both during the mash and the boil affects both natural protein precipitation and the effectiveness of additives which enhance the natural processes. Choice of yeast strain is also a key factor as is temperature control during fermentation and conditioning.

Is my beer ‘unfined’?

Drinkers have come to associate the modern trend for hazy beers with them being described as ‘unfined’.

However, technically ‘fining’ covers additions to aid clarity at various stages of the brewing process. Describing beers as ‘unfined’ is commonly an abbreviation for ‘not been fined using isinglass’ (more on this later) – they will most likely have had finings added elsewhere in the process.

The speed at which solid particles suspended a liquid will drop to the bottom of the vessel under the influence of gravity is determined by Stokes’ Law of physics – with the key factor in beer being that the speed of clearing is proportional to the square of the particle diameter. Given enough time, most particles will drop out of suspension naturally, but unaided this process could take several weeks. The key to clarifying beer more rapidly is to encourage particles in suspension to ‘flocculate’ – to gather together to form larger particles which then drop to the bottom of the vessel – be that the cask or keg from which the beer is served or a tank in the brewery.

Finings are additives used in the brewing and packaging process to encourage flocculation. There are three main stages in the brewing process where they can be used – in the copper (kettle), in the fermentation vessel or conditioning tank and in the cask/keg. At all stages, finings only work in conjunction with careful control of the brewing process – temperature and pH levels being key.

Isinglass finings

For cask beer, the most effective and therefore popular finings have been those made from isinglass, added directly to the cask either at packaging or before dispatch.

Isinglass is a substance derived from the dried swim bladders of certain types of fish – traditionally the Sturgeon, but these days more likely to be other breeds such as the Catfish and Threadfin – and hence not approved of by vegetarians and vegans.

The bladders are processed and then soaked in a blend of fruit acids forming what is known as a colloidal solution – an unstable solution with liquid and solid phases. The stability of this solution is governed by its pH (acidity). As supplied, at pH of around 2.5 it remains a solution but as its pH rises to around 5.5 (when dissolved in beer), the solid phase precipitates out and allows the finings to start their work.

The active ingredient in Isinglass is collagen, a large molecule with a positive atomic charge. Brewing yeasts typically have a comparatively small molecule size and a negative charge. They are therefore attracted to the positively charged collagen molecules forming a ‘floc’ with many yeast molecules bonded to each collagen molecule. Gravity takes over and the meshed cells drop to the bottom of the cask, clarifying the beer.

Isinglass is usually added direct to the cask (at a typical rate of one pint per nine-gallon cask).  Isinglass is highly effective at removing yeast particles from beer However, isinglass is not so effective at removing other particles which can cause haze.

Kettle Finings – Irish Moss

For many brewers, the first addition of finings takes place around 10 to 15 minutes from the end of the boil. The unlikely sounding source of this addition is seaweed – in particular, red seaweeds which contain carrageenan. Such finings are often known as ‘Irish Moss’ after a carrageenan containing seaweed called Chondrus crispus which is commonplace around the shores of Ireland.  

Carrageenan is used as a thickener in many food products but in brewing relatively small amounts added to the copper (or kettle – hence ‘kettle finings’) helps to coagulate haze forming proteins and other solids as the wort is cooled. Rapid cooling of the wort at the end of the boil causes proteins to precipitate out of the wort – what is known to brewers as the ‘cold break’. The use of kettle finings enhances protein removal by removing virtually all haze forming materials.

Although ‘Irish Moss’ is available as a dried or liquid additive (today commonly a blend with other carrageen bearing seaweeds), carrageenan is more commonly found as the main active ingredient in refined kettle finings products such as Protafloc, Whirlfloc or Compac CG. The advantage of using refined carrageenan products is increased efficiency requiring smaller doses.


Once the cooled wort reaches the fermenter, yeast is pitched and begins its work converting sugars to alcohol. In the process, it reproduces rapidly to the point where a fermenting beer can contain as many as 40 million yeast cells per millilitre of beer (that’s 22 billion in a pint). As fermentation completes this count will be reduced to closer to 1 million active cells while hop additions in the fermenter will mean that the beer will also contain millions of particles of protein and tannins.

Some yeast strains are naturally flocculant, starting to clump together as fermentation slows, while others are powdery and need encouragement to drop out of suspension. Many modern commercial brewers’ yeasts are a mixture of strains with the flocculant strain doing its work and then dropping out towards the end of fermentation leaving the powdery yeast in the beer to complete the fermentation process.

To encourage both the yeast and proteins to coagulate at the end of fermentation, brewers will rapidly cool the fermented beer to below four degrees (‘cold crashing’) and then hold the beer at this temperature to allow the flocs of yeast and protein to drop to the bottom of the fermenting vessel.

At this stage, they can also add ‘auxiliary finings’ to help clear the proteins and polyphenols which remain suspended in the beer.

Auxiliary Finings

There are a number of different types of auxiliary finings, with the most common being silica based while others are ‘polysaccarides’ (based on gums such as Asacia and Gum Arabic) or more seaweed extracts. Auxiliary finings are usually natural in origin so suitable for use in vegetarian and vegan beers and are often used alongside isinglass to give increased clarity in a beer – what brewers refer to as ‘polish’.

The theory of operation of auxiliary finings is the same as isinglass except they are negatively charged to attract the positively charged proteins and polyphenols to form flocs. Different types of auxiliary finings will be required for different styles of beer – with most beers containing a mix of particles which will react to a number of different fining agents. Commercially available auxiliary fining products are therefore typically a blend of different agents with the aim of removing as many suspended particles as possible.

Auxiliary finings can be added to the fermentation vessel at the end of fermentation as the vessel is chilled or direct in the cask / keg.

When being used in conjunction with isinglass finings, auxiliary finings must be added before isinglass finings as the opposite charge of the two will mean that they can act on each other instead of on the proteins. Adding auxiliary finings first causes proteins to bond to the auxiliary molecules giving them a negative charge. These are then attracted to the positively charged isinglass molecules meaning the combination of auxiliary finings with isinglass can give the most ‘polished’ or ‘brite’ beer possible.

Vegan haze?

To produce beers which are suitable for vegans, brewers must avoid the use of isinglass finings (and gelatin, another animal derived fining agent). This omission is commonly leads to ‘unfined’ beers (i.e. without isinglass) being expected to be hazy.

Marble Beers – Pint ©John O’Donnell

However, this assumption does not always hold true. Manchester’s own Marble Beers have been producing perfectly clear beers without isinglass finings for over twenty years. Other renowned brewers such as Moor Beer and our own Blackjack Beers have followed suit.

Some brewers achieve clarity by careful control of ingredients & process and by allowing additional time during conditioning for haze causing particles to drop out naturally. Others use vegetarian finings agents such as Murphy’s Super-F or Protofine from AB Vickers (part of Lallemand) which are designed to rapidly drop both protein complexes and yeast from chilled beer in conditioning tanks.

Many modern brewers are happy to accept a slight ‘craft haze’ rather than put their beer through additional processing to achieve a full polish which they fear will also affect flavour while some beers are produced to be intentionally ‘murky’ – styles such as New England IPA’s (NEIPAs) being intended to taste ‘juicy’ and be served fresh meaning that brewers aren’t concerned about the implications on shelf life of leaving beers with proteins in suspension.

Does clear beer taste better?

There is only one person who can decide this and that is you, the drinker.

Brewers can’t agree – those who add different sorts of finings, cold crash fermenters and even filter their beers will say that taste is unaffected. Others argue that some of these measures do remove flavour and opt for haze instead.

The way something smells and the way it looks affects what your brain interprets as taste. If you prefer clear, then drink clear. If you don’t mind haze, drink haze. If you don’t know, close your eyes and let your taste buds decide.

How We Make Cider – Part Two

Fermentation, from the Orchard to the Barn

In this series, we look at ‘How We Make Cider and Perry’ – alcoholic drinks fermented from apples and pears. In part one we looked at the Apple, the Harvest and the Pressing – you can catch up here

This time we look at Fermentation.

So, you have your apple or pear juice, how does this turn to cider/perry? Fermentation is the process whereby sugar is converted to alcohol by yeasts.

Primary fermentation – starting with the froth

There are two stages to this, a primary fermentation followed by a slower ‘malolactic’ secondary fermentation.

Primary fermentation begins

Primary fermentation starts quickly, but the time taken for yeasts to use up all the sugars in the apple juice is dependent on the type of yeast used, of which more later, and on the temperature at which fermentation takes place.

Fermentation starts with an aggressive froth, as this slows airlocks will keep out exposure to bacteria in the air..

Warmer ambient temperatures will help yeasts work quicker but many cider makers will leave the cider over winter for a longer slower fermentation. In perry, not all the sugars are available to the yeast. Pears contain sorbitol which is a non-fermentable sugar. It is this that gives perry its natural sweetness.

Slowly maturing – malolactic fermentation

Fermenting barrels at Ross on Wye Cider

During the secondary fermentation the sharper malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid. This is carried out by lactic acid bacteria which are present in the apple juice and in the area in which the fermentation is carried out and normally happens in the late spring or early summer.

This maturation process takes anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years and is essential for a good flavour balance. It is during this period that apples high in tannins, cultivated especially for cider, can develop their broad aromas and will need longer to mature than the more acidic eating and cooking apples.

Choice of yeast

This step is probably the most widely discussed stage in cider making and as always there are many ways of going about it – but they essentially break down into using a cultured yeast or relying on wild fermentation.

In a similar manner to brewers, lots of cider makers will add a specifically chosen strain of yeast to carry out their fermentation. The choice of yeast will influence the characteristics of the final cider – for example, the use of wine yeast will produce a more ‘wine-like’ cider – bright with a juicy acidity.

The idea of using cultivated yeasts is to get consistency from batch to batch of both flavour and fermentation time. This approach is used by both small scale ‘craft’ producers as well as some large-scale cider makers who aim to complete the whole fermentation in just 7 days!

Wild fermentation

Many excellent ciders are made using commercial yeasts, sulphites will first be used to kill the wild yeasts. Some will delay this sulphiting for a few days to introduce a bit of the wild funk.

Minimum intervention wild ferment ciders and perries by producers such as Tom Oliver, Little Pomona and Ross Cider are produced differently.

Blair Cote from Little Pomona Cider in Herefordshire, volunteered on the Rethink Cider Bar at MBCF20 for two days.

In this spontaneous fermentation the yeast used to turn the apple sugars into alcohol exists within the fruits’ environment (in the air or on their skins) rather than grown in a lab. The resulting fermentation reflects the place and the environment which is part of what in the world of wine would be called ‘terroir’; and provides deeper, more natural flavours.

This is where tradition meets modernity. Cider makers such as Tom Oliver have championed the return to traditional wild ferment cider making, but to be presented in a modern way, much like the Natural Wine movement.

From the Orchard to the Barn

Wild yeasts are everywhere, on the apple skins and collecting in the orchard. With each pressing they stay on the cloths, the equipment and in the barn.

Just like in wine making or Belgian Lambic beer production the wild ferment ciders will take on a style reflecting the age and form of the orchard and the ‘in-house’ yeasts of the orchard and the barn.

Spontaneous fermentation

Traditional producers of ‘Natural Cider’ are the spontaneous fermentation experts. Apple juice will ferment spontaneously with great ease using an ecological succession of yeasts.

The first yeasts from the orchard start a rapid fermentation but as alcohol levels develop, they die out and slower and stronger yeasts move in and finish off the primary fermentation stage.

Why are more modern ciders being made in the traditional way?

Firstly, the cider makers believe the depth of flavour and complexity achieved from a ‘wild’ or natural fermentation to be greater.

Secondly, commercial yeast strains have specific temperatures that they like to work in and require temperature control and a more ‘industrial’ environment.

Plus, on a slightly more philosophical level, the new modern traditionists are trying to make a purely Natural Cider and, to truly do that, they think you need to not only be using local fruit, but also local yeasts at local temperatures.

The search for consistency

The choice between wild ferment or use of cultivated yeasts is often influenced by the choice to create a consistent cider year on year or for a cider that expresses the place of its making, and which each year will reflect changes of in weather and environment. Many drinkers want their favourite cider to taste the same each year, others prefer the natural diversity of wild ferment. The use of specific yeasts can also produce ciders with a particular flavour profile, for example Hogan’s Cider use Brettanomyces yeast to create the sour flavours in their ‘Killer Sharp’ Cider; Hawkes Cider us a Sauvignon Blanc yeast in their Soul Trader Cider, to add citrus flavours to the Braeburn apple; others use Champagne yeasts to produce Traditional Method sparkling ciders..

The modern craft cider makers ambition

The modern craft cider makers ambition to express the flavours of the chosen apples or pears and to make a cider that truly reflects their local environment, their terroir if you like.

Richard Withecombe

Part Three of this series – Process and styles – will appear in the June 2020 issue of Beer Buzz

All photos from Ross on Wye Cider and Perry and Little Pomona Cider. Copyright.

EXTRA Focus on…. Stretford

An emerging beer destination well worth visiting…

Often overlooked while hurrying on or off the M60 or whizzing past on a tram for the city centre or Altrincham, Stretford is emerging as a beer destination well worth visiting. After years of decline, losing iconic pubs such as The Drum and The Old Cock, the area is undergoing a renaissance.

For most, the easiest public transport to the area will be the Metrolink stop on Edge Lane or the numerous and frequent buses which run down Chester Road (including the 245, 255 & 256) or the 23 & 25 from Chorlton and beyond.

The Melville ©Bob Dunbar

After passing through the centre, the 25 & 256 buses stop outside the furthest of the area’s pubs from the centre, The Melville Hotel. This pub on Barton Road is also the only traditional pub remaining in the town from the area’s heyday.

©Bob Dunbar

A large Joseph Holt “50’s estate” style pub which has retained many of its original features through several refits; today its main focus is on dining and TV sports.

Serving Holt’s bitter and IPA through hand pumps, (judging from the taste and appearance the beer is kept very well indeed), as well as keg and bottled versions of other Holts beers and lagers, it still is an important part of the community with regular live music and other entertainment such as regular Friday DJ’s, Saturday Live music and/or featured night and Karaoke on Sundays. Landlord Danny Chambers has been there for 8 years and has an excellent relationship with his customers. The food is of a very decent standard and features “2 for 1” across the entire menu all day every Monday. The pub is dog friendly and accessible – it also features an enclosed beer garden to the rear away from the main road.

Heather Garlick ©John O’Donnell

Following Barton Road south onto Park Road and back towards Stretford Mall the same buses will drop you almost outside the unassuming door of The Sip Club. Their tagline is ‘a living room with a licence’ and with its standing lamps, tablecloths and pot plants it really is. Opened by local businesswoman Heather Garlick in April 2014 it was the first of a new breed of bars for Stretford putting local people, businesses and produce in focus. The pub recently retained its Trafford & Hulme CAMRA’s ‘Community Pub Of the Year’ award for a second year, having also previously picked up awards for Pub Of The Season & LocAle Pub Of The Year.

The two hand pumps serve locally sourced ales, typically Brightside, Marble or Pomona Island and local cider also available. Events range from Speak Easy poetry, prose and music nights, watercolour painting, ukulele jam nights, canine socials and French conversation cafes (to name but a few)! If you feel anything’s missing The Common Room is available for functions and other events. Your little four-legged friend is also welcome.

The Robin Hood ©Bob Dunbar

Diagonally across the junction with Urmston Lane lies the imposing, former Robin Hood Hotel. Having served the locals from the traditional heart of Stretford for many years, the Robin Hood was closed just over a year ago having been sold off by brewer turned ‘pub co’ Greene King to a property developer, RGI Property Group. A traditional meeting place for families and friends and a favoured venue for many local groups right up to its sudden closure, the pub is felt to still be viable and not surprisingly, its absence has caused much concern. 

On its closure, a local group, ‘Friends of the Robin Hood’ was quickly formed and have not only successfully achieved listing of the pub as an Asset of Community Value, they have also defended this status against a recent appeal by the property developer RGI who wants to convert the pub into flats and develop houses in the car park. Whilst the future remains uncertain, there has been some good news in that the current planning application for housing development has been withdrawn.

Elsewhere in Stretford the latest focus on development is taking place in the once vacant units on the Chester Road side of Stretford Mall (formerly known as Stretford Arndale). A very convenient stop sees all the buses from Altrincham to Manchester (and vice versa across the road) stopping on request

Head ©Bob Dunbar

First to open in December 2018 was Head. The large unit of a former branch of HSBC was converted with a double-sided bar and décor very much like a 1960s/1970s pub, or indeed lounge. If you think browns, oranges, tan settees, pictures and some great textile patterns you won’t be far off.

Head – The Bar ©Bob Dunbar

The brainchild of Jim Giblyn it is dog friendly and fully accessible. There are regular live music and DJ nights and the pub hosts events from quizzes to craft fayres. 2 hand pumps serve cask from independent breweries from near and far and there are 10 keg lines.

Head’s past guest beers ©Bob Dunbar

Breweries often featured include Pomona Island, Torrside, Tiny Rebel and Timothy Taylors. When I visited they were serving Tiny Rebel “Stay Puft” marshmallow porter, which was delicious, and Burton Road brewery Pale IPA from the hand pumps along with Torrside “Autonomy”, Saltaire “Triple Chocolate Stout” and Shindigger “Grand Central” IPA amongst others from the keg taps.

July 2019 saw the opening of Stretford Food Hall, combining an artisan shopping experience with space for food and drink by Mital Morar, owner of the STORE group and Kiosk Coffee in Manchester Arndale. Set up like a mini market including a convenience store with a great beer range, a florist, merchandise and a rotating selection of street food outlets there is also a permanent bar. Keg only but stocking a good selection of local craft beer as well as a wide range of cans and bottles from a wide range of Craft Breweries. Focus is on local, organic and sustainable offerings. Dog friendly and fully accessible. 

The Longford Tap ©Bob Dunbar

Longford Tap opened in an unoccupied former food outlet shop unit in early September 2019. The brainchild of local businessmen, and brothers, Paul and David Burgess it’s a cafe bar by day offering coffee and cake with a more traditional pub feel at night.

Longford Tap’s bar ©Bob Dunbar

Ales from across the region served from 4 hand pumps in addition to 5 keg taps and an offering of cider. The house beer is “Longford Tap” coming in at 4.2% and brewed exclusively for the pub by Beatnikz Republic. Regular guest breweries are Beatnikz Republic, Marble and Manchester Brewing, along with Blackjack and Squawk. Bottles are available for takeaway and they have a menu of traditional bar snacks, Manchester/ Scotch eggs, sausage rolls etc. There is live music on Friday nights, along with “Open Mic” nights and themed offerings during the week. Opens early (10am). Dog friendly. During the day it offers a big piece of cake and a coffee for £3.50 as an alternative to beer. Trafford & Hulme branch have named the pub their ‘Best Newcomer’ for 2020.

Another bar on the Chester Road frontage which was originally announced over a year ago has finally seen progress since Christmas. Soul Juice will open soon, as will the Hive next door to the Head.

Nearby clubs Trafford Social Club and Metro Sports and Social Club offer a warm welcome and some cask beer but do require membership.

Caz O’Donnell & Bob Dunbar

Support your local club

Dave Wade has an alternative kind of local….

Cricket at Sale Sports Club ©Dave Wade

Yes, that’s right “Club”, so although much of CAMRAs focus is on the “Pub” for me for many, years, when I wanted a pint, I made a trip to the local “Club”.  This was not a late-night entertainment centre but our village cricket club. It was owned and run by the villagers and offered a wide range of facilities in addition well cricket.

Similar establishments owned and operated by and for their members are dotted around the country.  Some date back to 1800’s but many were formed in the 20th century. They were founded with the aim of bringing together like-minded people with common interest such as a sport, a political party or a simply as a social space for workers in a local industry.

Bowling Green – Sale United Services Club ©Dave Wade

As they were and still are owned by their members, the clubs could buy alcohol “on behalf” of the members, who could then consume it on the club premises, in the same way as they could at home, under a “club licence” thus side-stepping some of the strict licencing laws in the 20th century . Being managed by volunteers they often offered beer at very attractive prices.

The bar at Flixton Conservative Club ©Dave Wade

In the current alcohol laws a similar his distinction continues, and many clubs operate under a “clubs premises certificate” which only permits them to serve alcohol to members and guests. However whilst a few, especially political clubs, still limit membership most clubs are open and welcome new members. Even the sports clubs welcome associate or social members who just want to use the facilities and contribute to the club funds by using the bar.

What can I expect if I visit?

In most clubs, if you wish to apply for membership you can expect a warm welcome, although as they are run by the members who are normally unpaid volunteers, actually joining may be a challenge.

Flixton Conservative Club ©Dave Wade

Clubs vary widely in the facilities they offer. Many have real ale on offer, sometimes just a single pump with a national beer, but in others it may be one or two local beers. In exceptional cases, such as in Flixton Conservative club, the National CAMRA club of the year for 2018 you will typically find up to six changing beers on offer the focus is on local and regional breweries such as Dunham Massey, Pictish and Elland.  Like several local clubs Camra members are admitted.

The clubs are owned by their members so as well as beer most clubs will have a range of social facilities.  They usually own their own premises many have space for facilities which the PubCos have removed from their pubs so they can downsize and sell the land for housing or offices.

Of course the Sports Clubs usually own a sports ground, but outside you will also find bowling greens, a feature which continues to disappear from many pubs at an alarming rate. Inside many have full sized snooker tables again a luxury that most pubs have dispensed with. Those I have visited with such a feature include Flixton Con Club as mentioned above, along with Sale United Services Club, Woodheyes Club, Sale but many more have this facility.

Snooker tables at Sale United Services Club ©Dave Wade

At the more mundane level the Sports Clubs may show some of the less popular sports on TV  so when football and Rugby, clash if you are a member Trafford Metrovicks Rugby Club in Sale will of course have the rugby match on their projection TV and you can enjoy the game whilst supping a pint of their own labelled beer from Dunham Massy.

The Future

Today CAMRA recognises that members clubs provide a valuable community resource and also offer a range of quality beer so actively encourages our members to support them. Like our Pubs many of clubs are facing financial pressures from dwindling membership or the closure of their supporting businesses, and over the years many have closed.  

So if you fancy taking up Snooker, Cricket or Rugby or just want to watch others participate, consider checking out your local members club.

Dave Wade

The ladies go out and about – in Bolton

Our intrepid group of ladies set out on their travels again, with a trip to to the wet and windy town of Bolton. Ann Ward tells us what they found….

The first of our stops was in the Lifestyle Hall inside Bolton Market, a lovely little bar and aptly named One For The Road.

©Ann Ward

With three cask ales and plentiful food on offer, we suitably fed and watered ourselves.

Next it was on to the Hen & Chickens, Deansgate, a welcoming bar with multi-rooms, and five cask ales. A nice touch was when the beer barrel ran out before our order was completed the first half pint from the next was given free. As explained, this was the custom of the pub and it was unexpected, as we had already ordered an alternative.

A short walk then led us to Great Ale At The Vaults, Market Place, a very interesting underground bar, four cask ales offered here, with the owners previously having a bar in the market.

Ladies in The Vaults
Ladies in The Vaults ©Ann Ward

Now it was out again and into daylight and back on to Deansgate with rain, we called upon a Theakston’s pub, the Olde Three Crowns at the lower end. A basic old fashioned boozer, and interesting windows. Only the brewery’s Old Peculiar, which went down well at 5.6% ABV and ) Lancaster brewery’s Blonde ale (4.0% ABV were available. Whilst we were there a workman who had come in out of the rain asked one of our ladies if there was a dryer in the ladies toilets – and then asked if she could dry his socks! Not a regular occurrence that happens often one would suspect. She of course obliged and he was thus very grateful.

Historic Old Man & Scythe ©Ann Ward

Further along on the opposite side where it becomes Churchgate, was Ye Olde Man & Scythe, fronted in a mock-Tudor style, a building which goes way back to when there was a pub on this site in 1251. This is Bolton Camra’s Cider pub of the year with friendly locals, up to four cask ales and four cask ciders available too – what more could anyone want – perhaps the resident ghost might join you and imbibe!

Barristers Bar is also on Churchgate, but the entrance is just around the corner on Bradshawgate. Using a door to the right, we encountered another old world pub which boasted six cask ales available.

©Ann Ward
©Ann Ward

Our seventh pub, the Northern Monkey Brewery Co Pack Horse  bar on Nelson Square has friendly staff and was totally different to the previous pubs, with the addition of a small glass of popcorn to accompany their Film Club Popcorn Stout, and a delicious drop at 6.0% ABV. Three of their beers in total were available,

Lastly we couldn’t do a pub crawl without at least one Wetherspoons. The Spinning Mule, also on Nelson Square was extremely busy but provided a fitting end to our day.

©Ann Ward

Only one charity shop visited this time, but all the pubs were good, many giving CAMRA discount and kept us dry on a wet and windy day.  


How We Make Cider – Part One

The Apple, the Harvest and the Pressing

In this series of four pieces we look at How We Make Cider and Perry – alcoholic drinks fermented from apples and pears respectively. The UK is still the largest producer and consumer of these drinks although other countries are catching up fast!

The apple

Apple variety is a defining characteristic in cider; the best ciders are made with cider specific varieties. Like wine grapes, cider apples have the tannin, acid, sugar and aromatic precursors necessary to make a complex fermented drink. These characteristics are sometimes contained within one variety, but more often are blended.

Apples used in cidermaking are classified as bittersweet, bittersharp, sweet or sharp. These terms don’t explicitly include the sugar content of the apples, though this is also an important factor in cidermaking as it drives the alcohol content of the finished product. 

A variety such as Dabinett or Yarlington Mill is called bittersweet as it has a low level of acidity and a high level of tannin; others like Kingston Black or the lipsmacking Foxwhelp are classified as bittersharp as they contain high levels of both.

A sharp such as Braeburn is high in acidity but low in tannin; in a Cider made from ‘eaters and cookers’, a cooking apple such as Bramley could be considered a ‘sharp’.

A Sweet Coppin or Sweet Alford apple is categorised as sweet due to low tannin and low acidity. The term doesn’t necessarily refer to its sugar content relative to other apples, but more to the perception of sweetness, because of this lack of sharp flavours. In an Eastern Counties acid led cider using eaters and cookers, apples such as Discovery would be classified as sweet.

For Perry, there are two classifications: Perry Pears are rich in tannins, with varying degrees of acidity and sweetness (though all Perry Pears retain some sweetness after fermentation due to a natural sorbitol). Table pears which are very low in tannins are sometimes used to produce a Pear Cider, sometimes called a modern Perry.

The harvest

Craft Cider is a seasonal drink, it gets made just once a year during the apple harvest.

Chris Hewitt (Dunham Press Cider) and Nicky Kong (The Crown & Kettle) harvesting apples ( ©Richard Withecombe)

Unlike apples bound for the supermarket, which are often picked before fully ripe to prolong shelf life, for cider ripeness is critical. Part of the skill of an Orchard based cider maker is knowing exactly when to harvest, by hand or from the ground, to attain optimum sugar and flavour levels.

Harvesting season can be roughly divided into two halves, early and late. The early apple varieties such as Major and Foxwhelp start to ripen in early to mid-September. The later varieties such as Dabinett and Yarlington Mill tend to start coming in late-October to mid-November.

Pressing is in three important stages; first scrupulously cleaning the apples, second using a scratter to break up into a pressable pulp, and third pressing. At home chopping up apples or using a hand scratter and a hand press will produce a low yield of juice. The more powerful the press, the higher the juice yield that can be achieved.

Factory produced ciders

Industrial cider making does not follow the seasonal nature of craft, orchard-based, cider making. Therefore, it manipulates the process in several ways, one of which is very prevalent. This is to use concentrated apple juice, which can be stored and fermented year-round by industrial processes.

With the growth of many industrial fruit ciders, we have seen an increase in use of bulk concentrates and as more fruit or concentrate is brought in from the world market, orchards in the UK are in further decline. This is a trend which stretches back several decades due to other factors such as improvements in agricultural techniques and technology, causing the price of apples as a commodity to consistently fail to rise even in line with inflation. For UK apple growers, it is an uncertain future.

The actual apple content required in UK ciders is shamefully low; a paltry 35% minimum.

Even worse, fruit ciders are regulated differently as ‘made wines’ for which there is NO minimum juice content. Virtually all “Fruit Ciders” regardless of production scale or quality of ingredients are diluted to 4% abv because of exorbitant tax bands above that.

There are exceptions such as Tom Oliver’s At The Hop range  and Turners Elderflower, both coming in at 5.5% abv. Here the makers have made the decision to not add more water or unfermented juice to hit the 4% mark and have taken the hit on the extra duty this alcohol level incurs. This takes a degree of integrity as a cider maker and, in my view, should be recognised and celebrated.

Part Two of this series – Terroir and fermentation – will appear in the March 2020 issue of Beer Buzz

Talking Tech

Pumping beer – from cellar to glass

One thing that is guaranteed to set the lifelong cask ale drinker’s alarm bells ringing is when the bar server pulling their pint of cask tells them – “oh, I’ll just have to go and change the gas”. Having spent all their drinking lives believing that cask ale is unsullied by dreaded CO2, a pub that requires gas to serve their cask ales is surely up to no good?

Well usually, they aren’t, it’s just part of the modern pub cellar. In this piece, we’ll look at how your cask ale gets from the pub cellar to the bar.

The first thing to remember is that not all pubs are the same. How the beer gets to the pump in somewhere like Manchester Arndale’s Micro Bar is going to be very different from its route from one of the three cellars in JD Wetherspoon’s Moon Under Water.

While pins of Old Tom have seasonally appeared on the bar of Robinsons’ pubs, the recent growth of the ‘micro-pub’ has seen a revival of this most traditional method of serving – your beer poured directly from a cask. Micro-pubs like Stalybridge’s Bridge Beers have their casks on display on a rack behind the bar and use nothing more than gravity to fill your glass.

In the 70s, cask ales were regularly served by metered electric pumps but since the 1980s, the bar mounted handpump has become synonymous with cask ale.

The simple syphon pump, also known as a beer engine, was first patented in 1691 by a Dutch inventor called John Lofting. The principle of operation is simple – an airtight chamber sits between the line from the cask and the pump’s nozzle. A piston in the chamber is connected to the pump’s handle. When the server pulls the handle, the piston is pulled up, drawing beer into the chamber via a one-way valve. When the handle is returned, another one-way valve allows the beer to pass through the piston. On the next pull, the beer is pushed out of the chamber and through the nozzle while more beer is pulled into the chamber.

©John O’Donnell

As beer may be sat in the cylinder for some time between pulls, pumps are typically fitted with a cooling system which circulates chilled water through a jacket surrounding the cylinder.

The amount of beer dispensed on each pull can be a quarter, a third or half a pint. The larger the volume dispensed with each pull, the larger the effort required. With casks located in a traditional cellar, the beer engine must create enough suction to lift the beer from the cask. It must also overcome the natural resistance to flow of the beer line – the longer the line, the more effort required.

Flojet pump (©John O’Donnell)

Where the length of line and/or height between cellar and bar is too long, the handpump must be assisted with an additional pump in the pub cellar. While electric pumps can be used, the most common type of pump is a gas driven diaphragm pump – usually known as a Flojet pump, the trade name of the most commonly seen model.

In a diaphragm pump, two flexible diaphragms oscillate back and forth, creating chambers which suck in and then push out the beer. The diaphragms are connected by a shaft so as one sucks, the other pushes. The movement of the diaphragms is driven by compressed gas which does not come into contact with the beer.

On the first stroke, the gas moves one diaphragm to push beer from the first chamber via a one-way ball valve. At the same time, the second diaphragm is sucking beer into a second chamber. At the end of the stroke, the gas flow is diverted to push the second diaphragm, pushing out the beer drawn in on the previous stroke, while more beer is drawn into the first chamber. The cycle then repeats.

©John O’Donnell

Flojet pumps allow pubs to serve cask ale from cellars some distance from the bar and allow smaller diameter lines to be used, reducing the amount of beer in the lines at any given time. As they reduce the effort required to operate handpumps and reduce wear on the pump seals, they are regularly fitted in lines even where they aren’t strictly necessary.

Although electric powered flojet pumps are available, as pub cellars usually have a ready supply of gas, the gas-powered models are the most common – which leads to that unfortunate situation where the gas running out does stop cask ale flowing.

The Flojet is also the secret behind cask ale service from back bar taps such as those seen at the The Oast House and Stubborn Mule’s tap room. When the tap is opened, the flojet sets to work pumping the beer through the tap. They can easily generate enough pressure to force beer through a cask sparkler.

Extra Focus On….. Castlefield

Steve Davis explores the pubs amid Manchester’s Roman ruins and canals

While all the buzz around Manchester’s beer scene seems to be concentrated on areas to the north of the city centre, the Northern Quarter, Ancoats, and now the Green Quarter, other parts of Central Manchester should not be overlooked as they have pubs that have been consistently serving good ale for many years. Following a request from the Editor I decided to organise a quick Friday afternoon crawl around Liverpool Road and Castlefield basin to check out the bars and pubs locally. Castlefield can be easily reached by public transport with the Metrolink stop at Deansgate/Castlefield, Deansgate railway station and from Piccadilly station, the No 1 free bus around the city centre (Saturdays only) or No 3 (Evenings only).

©Steve Davis

I started at the Oxnoble on Liverpool Road. This is a food-led pub but there are areas if you just want to drink in front and to the side of the bar. There were a few small groups eating and one group of four chaps having just a drink, I soon deduced they were Norwegian United fans, the ‘Stavanger Reds’ on the back of one of their jackets was a bit of a giveaway. There is a bank of four handpumps but two clips were turned around, leaving the not very inspiring choice of Doom Bar or Robinsons Dizzy Blonde. I chose Dizzy Blonde and the welcoming barman did pull some through before serving me a half, it was actually quite good. One of the turned around clips was Adnams Ghost Ship, which I would have chosen. I am sure pub industry insiders can give me a plethora of reasons, but why do pubs turn clips round and not take them off? You are left with a sense of ‘And this is what you could have had’.

I was now joined by fellow Central Manchester member, Steve Ingham, and we moved onto the next pub, the White Lion 100 yards up the road (passing Manchester’s Roman ruins on route)

The first thing that struck me as we walked in was how cold it was, was the heating not working or not switched on? Again there is a bank of four handpumps and two clips were turned around leaving the choice of Doom Bar (again) and Sharp’s Atlantic. The barmaid struggled a little in getting two halves of the Sharp’s as it was very lively, but the beer tasted fine. It was £5 for two halves and this was the most expensive pub we visited in what is generally an expensive part of town. The only other customers were the Norwegians, but I know during the summer it can be a lot busier with the large outdoor area facing Liverpool Road. The pub itself is pleasant; bare wooden floorboards, a nice fireplace and lots of United memorabilia on the walls including signed player photos mixed in with old prints of Manchester, including the pub when it was a Threlfall house.

Our next destination was Cask, a Good Beer Guide regular on Liverpool Road. This was by far the busiest pub that we visited; we couldn’t get a seat. Many office workers were having a pint and their lunch there having brought their fish and chips in from the Fish Hut next door. There were four cask ales on. I chose Ilkley Fireside, a smoky Porter, this was not a bad beer but I couldn’t detect smokiness in the taste or the aroma. Steve chose a pale ale, Thirst Class Mosaic, which he pronounced very good. The other cask ales on offer were Pictish Wakatu and Rooster’s Highway Fifty-One, an American Pale Ale. This pub does also serve many excellent keg and continental bottled beers, and these were proving more popular sellers than the cask ale.

The Wharf (©Steve Davis)

We next proceeded to The Wharf, the furthest pub away of the three remaining to visit. In hindsight I should have started there. The Wharf is a Brunning and Price pub and this chain do deck their pubs out to a very high standard. It does possess, I believe, the best outdoor drinking area in central Manchester with the view over the canal basin surrounded by warehouses converted to offices, but on a cold November afternoon it was only populated by one man and his dog. Inside there were small clusters of drinkers, many also dining. There were ten cask ales and a cider on, pleasingly three of the ten ales were dark beers. I chose an Epic Beetle Juice, described as a black ale and I struggled to identify exactly what beer style a ‘Black ale’ is, notwithstanding that it was very good. Steve had one of the regular beers, Weetwood Cheshire Cat, which he really liked.

The Wharf (©Steve Davis)

Out next stop in Castlefield was Dukes 92, named after the adjacent Lock No 92, known as Duke’s Lock after the Duke of Bridgewater who used to control it.I

had no great expectations as on my only previous visit about four years ago I had a very poorly kept pint of Holt’s bitter here. We walked in and the place was certainly busier that the Wharf. It is hard to spot the two handpumps as they are at the left-hand end of the bar and are metallic cylinders but we spotted a pump clip. This was offering Joseph Holt’s Paterson’s, one of a series of one-off beers being brewed to celebrate 170 years of the brewery. It tasted to me like a stronger version of Holt’s IPA and was very pleasant. The other clip was turned around, Brightside Odin. I warmed to the place, it had a buzz to it and whilst the many indoor artificial trees might not be to everyone’s taste they did separate the large room up well.

Our final destination was the The Knott, a one-time regional pub of the year. This is now described as ‘The Home of Wander Beyond’, the brewery which is under the same ownership. This brewery provided one of the six cask ales on sale, Peak pale ale, which Steve tried and liked. I had the Beatnikz Republic Boardwalk, a gluten free pale ale which was my favourite of the day. As well as the cask ales there is a bank of 25 keg fonts which featured beers from such highly rated breweries as Cloudwater, Buxton, Pilot, Tiny Rebel, Northern Monk as well as four keg beers from Wander Beyond. This pub was smartened up a couple of years ago and the entrance moved onto Deansgate, though people still try to get in through the old now locked glass doors.

In summary a very enjoyable afternoon with friendly bar staff in all the pubs and neither of us had a bad pint, even in pubs where cask ale is not a big seller. So, if you don’t know this part of town get out and explore!

SIBA Judging at Bolton Beer Festival

Tony Mitchell recounts his experience judging champion beers

Bolton Beer festival held at the University of Bolton Stadium, (or U-Bolt for short), opened on Thursday 10 October, at 6pm for customers but for a chosen few the day began at 10.30 with registration for judges of the best beers competition. For not only was it a beer fest, but it was the SIBA (Small Independent Brewers Association) North West championship for which I was one of these chosen few.

There are many types of people able to judge a beer, not just aficionados; – a trained palate is not a prerequisite as these beers are on sale to the general public and not specifically to any one class of drinker.

I arrived by bus and train in plenty of time and was presented with my name badge and a lanyard, and was offered tea or coffee and biscuits, which I duly did before having a look around. There were a few faces I recognised from similar events in the past and after a short while I was approached by Ian Addleston of Belmont Labels who had asked me to represent his company at last year’s event. This was typical of the companies associated with the beer trade as I also found representatives from maltsters, hop farms, brewery equipment, even a sales rep who sold cardboard boxes, plus of course from the breweries themselves. This latter group however were not allowed to take part in the judging, they could possibly recognise their own beers and thus give them better marks, so were asked to act as runners, bringing the beer to our tables when the time came to judge.

There was a free bar set up for us with five localish beers available, Peerless Skyline, 4.2% Blackedge U.S.Ale 4%, Bank Top Bad to the Bone 4%, Northern Monkey Last Drop 3.6%, and from Ulverston Stringers Copper 3.9%. These were racked bright though as I noticed early on that they hadn’t been spiled or tapped.

©Tony Mitchell

We received our call to arms at 11am, and there were 12 tables of judges, all containing between 4 and 6 people on each and each trying different categories – Pales, Best Bitters, Speciality, Bottle and Cans, IPAs etc. My first table was dark beers of up to 4.4% and included stouts, porters, milds, browns and dark bitters. Guy Sheppard from Exe Valley Brewery in Devon was our MC (despite his badge proclaiming him as ‘Head of long speeches’) and explained the task ahead. We each had a printed sheet on which we would write the beer number and our marks for appearance, aroma, taste, aftertaste and saleability. marks out of 10 for most, though 20 for taste, of course it was all blind tasting. We had Mark from Lancaster brewery to take our questions, pour our drinks and remove our finished glasses while our runner was Claire from Bank Top who would bring us jugs of our beers and tell us what the beer was, mild, porter or whatever, and whether it was fined or unfined. We also took water and crackers to clear our palates (I was told of one instance at a previous event where the first drink was a chilli beer which left a lingering taste in those judges’ mouths and affected the taste of the subsequent beers). Of the last two of the eight we tested on this run, one of them was unfined, yet it was the other which was cloudy. We all thought that there might have been a mix up in the delivery, but this wasn’t so. Needless to say the cloudy one was marked down by all of us.

©Tony Mitchell

There was nothing however which jumped out at me as being a really good ale and all in all my marks tended to be in the top 30’s and 40’s out of a maximum of 60 points.

Round one was finished and we left the tables to be cleared for the next round, which was soon to follow and this time I was on table two, which was Cask Bitters 4.5%-6.4% which we were told included Bests, Blondes, Goldens, Pales and Premiums. However we were told in advance that all but one were premiums, the other being a pale, and that all had been fined. The first one looked good and was marked high for appearance but the taste was disappointing. Drink with your mouth and not your eyes aye! The rest would be either darker or a light almost Boddingtons colour, with the last being an enigma as it was the best conditioned, but poor in all other aspects. So it received the fewest points from me.

Once again it was time to let the tables be readied for the next round and by now the aforementioned free bar was open.

Now I bumped into an old friend of mine, Eric Cruise, who has been helping to organise this event for years; the festival itself is to raise money for Bolton Lads Club which is in turn supported by Bolton Rugby Club, where the event used to take place and Eric is a retired player but is still a committee member. I also bumped into a familiar face who until recently was Chairman of Greater Manchester CAMRA. Graham Donning was propping up the free bar. It was also lunch time. as drinking judges we all need that blotting paper to soak up our intake and the choice was Irish stew, Meat pie or Cheese and Onion pie, with mushy peas.

We were called back for the third round and everyone slowly drifted back to the tables, many with their free drink in hand. I was back onto table one with Claire and Mark in attendance, and back on the dark beers up to 4.4%. It transpired that these were the best of earlier tables’ choices in that category and so we expected better things than round one had produced. Yet one of them came along which quite obviously was not a dark beer. It was good but had been put into the wrong group. One member of our table had had bitters in a previous round and said it would have done well in that category. We consulted Guy over this and he agreed with us but said we should make our own decisions and as it was a good beer, I gave it appropriate marks as such but had to mark it down on appearance as it was definitely not a dark beer. On all these tables we had taken a sip or two and done our scoring. Obviously with so many beers to taste it wasn’t advisable to drink too much and like wine tasters, we spat a lot out. However some people kept hold of theirs to enjoy more leisurely once everything else had been finished

Judging was over for me and most of the others with just twenty people over two tables to work on the finalists. But before this could happen the scores had to be totalled up to see which beers had made it that far. As for the rest of us, well there was still the free bar.

Sometime not long after 4pm the results were made known and the presentations were made. There were certificates for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, with a plaque for each of the winners. When each was announced it was assumed that somebody from the winning brewery would go on up to receive their prize and have their photos taken, but not every brewery had sent a representative. I had found myself sitting near the people from Bollington brewery, who would also go up to collect on behalf of Red Willow. Unfortunately for them Red Willow won more prizes than they did, and as they sent up a different representative to collect each time they were running out of recipients. (I honestly thought they might send me up for one.) There were a lot of categories, consequently it took a lot of time. Finally the SIBA North West Champion Beer for 2019 was announced and of all the breweries throughout the region it was the one from two miles away which won: Blackedge’s ‘West Coast’ (4.1%).

The Winners (©Tony Mitchell)

Now the festival beers became available to us an hour before the general public were allowed in. which was good as the free bar had been emptied and was now dismantled. But to us judges this was free too. And with looser tongues, more networking was done among the tradesmen, more friends made all round, and generally more things discovered about our fellow tasters. While many did have that trained palate, or a hearty interest in all things ale, even to the point of knowing what hops are in that particular beer, there was one chap who confided in me that his regular tipple was a pseudo Australian lager. It just shows you, it takes all sorts to judge a beer competition.

Post judging socialising (©Tony Mitchell)