Talking Tech – Caring for cask in the pub cellar

Earlier this year, we looked at the efforts brewers go to ensure the beer in their casks has enough dissolved carbon dioxide to allow pubs to serve it with the gentle carbonation associated with the format (see here). In this issue, we look at what happens when that cask reaches the pub cellar.

Pubs may buy their beer direct from their local brewers, they may have to source it from their Pub Company landlords, or they may purchase it from a beer wholesaler who supplies beers from many breweries. We will look at how these supply arrangements work in a future issue but the result is that casks may arrive at the pub direct from a brewery a mile away or via a lengthy supply chain.

Cooling the beer to cellar temperature

Once casks are delivered into the care of a pub’s cellar team, the first thing they need to do is give them time to adjust to cellar temperature.

In an ideal world, to keep beer at its very best, it would be stored in temperature-controlled warehouses and delivered to the pub in refrigerated vans. However, such ‘total cold chain’ distribution is rare in the UK. Although casks from a local brewery may have only come out of a cold store a couple of hours earlier, those from further afield may have had a lengthy journey and casks may arrive at the pub at ambient temperature. If a cask is delivered at 20°C and placed in a cellar at recommended cellar temperature of 12 °C , it will take the beer inside the cask over 24 hours to cool to 12°C.

Cleanliness

Pub cellars should be meticulously clean places, especially when keeping cask ales which are open to the atmosphere and whatever airborne bacteria it contains. Food has no place in the cellar with dairy products a particular risk – lactobacillus, the natural bacteria which turns milk into yoghurt or cottage cheese, is one of only a few bacteria that is equally at home in beer, but its sour flavours are not usually welcome in your best bitter.

Spillages should be mopped up at once – open beer puddles are the chief route for the spread of wild yeast and bacterial infections. Cellar walls and ceilings should be painted with anti-fungal paint and washed down frequently.

Give it time…

Cask ale needs time to mature and condition (commonly called ‘secondary fermentation’) after it is racked into casks – this is typically anywhere from a week for a simple pale ale to a month or more for a stronger more complex ale. Beer which has not had time to mature will be what is known as ‘green’ – containing off flavours which can mask the true flavour of the beer.

Traditionally, casks would complete most or all of their maturation in the pub cellar, However, many brewers are aware that modern cellars tend to be smaller than those of old and publicans don’t have the space to hold beer for extended periods.

Therefore increasingly brewers will complete most of the conditioning at the brewery – either in tanks before racking or by holding newly racked casks at the brewery before being delivered to customers. However, some brewers still retain traditional methods and will expect pubs to hold casks in the cellar for a week or more before preparing them to be put on sale.

Some pubs have the good fortune to have large cellars where they can routinely have their beers delivered two or more weeks before they expect to need them. Casks rarely indicate how long the beer has been in the cask (more commonly being marked with a best before date rather than a racking date). Therefore the less fortunate cellarman needs to know how his or her chosen brewers condition their beers – only with that knowledge can they rotate the beers in their cellar to ensure those that need time are allowed it.

Preparing for service

Cask ales contain live yeast so to prepare a cask for service, it needs to be placed in its final serving position (be this on its side on a traditional stillage or on its end for modern ‘vertical extract’) to allow the yeast to drop out of the beer before serving. See our earlier piece on casks and kegs for a brief explanation of vertical extraction.

A beer that has been largely conditioned in the brewery can ‘drop bright’ in as little as a few hours, whereas a more traditionally conditioned ale may need 48 hours or more. While some unfined beers may be intentionally hazy, most will still clear in some form or other given time.

Venting

An unvented plastic shive

Venting is the process where the seal on the cask (which may be wooden but is now more commonly plastic) is breached to release the pressure which has built up during secondary fermentation. Traditionally the cask is vented through the ‘shive’ – the seal on the hole in the side of the cask where the cask is filled – but with modern vertical extraction, the cask is vented through the ‘keystone’ (in the round end face of the cask) through which beer will also be drawn out.

The purpose of venting is two-fold. Firstly, it allows excess carbon dioxide (CO2) to slowly bubble out of solution until an equilibrium is reached where each pint of beer will contain just over one pint of CO2 dissolved in it – this level of around 1.1 ‘volumes’ of CO2 is the gentle carbonation level associated with good cask ale.

However, the second purpose is to allow purging of volatile substances such as acetaldehyde (green apples flavour) which are generated during fermentation.

Venting must always be delayed until the cask has reached cellar temperature. With the volume of CO2 beer can hold in solution being related to its temperature, to vent a warm beer will result in loss of much of the hard earned ‘condition’. If dissolved CO2 escapes when a beer is warm, it cannot be regained when the beer later reaches cellar temperature.

Vented cask with soft spile

After venting, the cellarman may initially insert a porous soft peg (‘spile’), allowing a lively beer actively generating carbon dioxide (CO2) to breathe – allowing CO2 to escape and reach that soft carbonation level we seek out.
Alternatively, they may go straight to inserting a semi-porous hard-spile, allowing the beer to continue to develop while keeping its condition until the beer is needed.

Even with a hard spile inserted, a cask which has completed secondary fermentation will still slowly loose condition through the spile. There is no hard and fast rule on how long a cask can be kept on hard spile but more than three or four days would be excessive.

The cellarman’s art

Which leads us to the final, but perhaps most important skill of the cellarman – that of timing their own art.

A beer festival knows exactly when their casks are expected to be ready (even if the live nature of beer and the tight timescales they often work in means they can’t always get it exactly right).

By contrast, the pub cellarman can be juggling the maturation and venting of multiple casks, trying to get each to perfect condition at just the time the preceding cask is emptied by their thirsty customers.

With the variety of factors that affect how busy or pubs are – from TV events to the vagaries of the British weather – meaning that casks can sell out in anything from 2 to 72 hours or more, this is no mean task.

When you get that perfect pint – remember the skill that has been involved in getting it there.

Urmston Ale Trail

Urmston has a thriving pub and bar scene with many new arrivals over recent years as well as some classic pubs. Many are fine cask ale establishments and this has led to the development of the Urmston Ale Trail, for beer enthusiasts to enjoy.

It is a simple enough idea; pick up a collectors card in your first pub and work your way around the 10 participating pubs (this does not have to be in one day!). Enjoy a pint of
real ale in each, get a unique stamp from each bar and receive a free pint once your Urmston Ale Trail card is complete.

The trail loops you around Urmston and Flixton, taking in pubs and bars on the outskirts of the town as well as the town centre and includes varying styles of pubs and bars.

Participating pubs and bars are:

  • The Assembly (Station Road)
  • Barking Dog (Higher Road)
  • Bird I’th Hand (Flixton Road
  • Brew Chimp (Church Road)
  • Church Inn (Church Road)
  • Lord Nelson (Stretford Road)
  • Prairie Schooner Tap House (Flixton Rd)
  • Roebuck (Church Road)
  • Steamhouse (Station Road)
  • Tim Bobbin (Flixton Road)
Urmston Ale Trail
Click map to download as PDF file.

Who’s Crafting Your Beer?

Whatever your opinions on the numbers of small brewers producing KeyKeg and keg beers, few can deny that the drinker has never had more choice of quality beers on both cask and keg formats. But there is one group who don’t like it – the big brewers who used to have a monopoly on the fonts at your local pubs.

The big national and international producers have found that drinkers are turning away from their heavily promoted brands. Like many other sections of society, beer lovers are increasingly looking at the provenance of what they buy, preferring to give their money to smaller artisan producers over what are perceived as ‘corporations’. 

The response from ‘big beer’ has been putting beers on the bars that have the appearance of ‘craft’ brands but are brewed alongside the macro-brands. They’ve also been buying up successful smaller brewers to add flavoursome beers to their ranges.

Hop House 13 from Diageo, Lagunitas IPA from Heineken & Open Gate Citra IPA , also from Diageo)

Drinkers seeking new flavours often look to imported beers on draught and in bottles/cans – but what they are buying is often just a subsidiary of the corporations they are seeking to avoid.

In the United States, a ‘craft brewery’ has a clear definition set by the US Brewers Association. Sadly, the UK has no equivalent definition, and this has left the door open for marketeers at some of the UK’s largest brewers to attempt to hijack the term.

So who is behind the ‘craft’ beers at your local? 

The world’s biggest brewer AB InBev, maker of Budweiser and Stella Artois, owns over 140 breweries around the world including Camden Town in the UK, the USA’s Goose Island and Belgium’s Leffe (alongside the once iconic British brands Bass and Boddingtons).

Europe’s largest player Heineken hit the headlines when it purchased a 49% stake in Beavertown in late 2018 but already has a portfolio which includes own label Maltsmiths, Lagunitas IPA, Amstel, Birra Moretti, Zywiec and Irish stouts Beamish and Murphy’s, plus minority stakes in Brixton Brewery and Paulaner.

Japan’s Asahi added Fullers and Dark Star to their portfolio in January, joining their existing brands including Meantime, Pilsner Urquell, Grolsch, Peroni and Polish brand Tyskie.

Another Japanese company is behind many more brands – tech giant Mitsubishi’s finance arm owns the Kirin group which in turn owns Lion – the Australian based company which purchased Huddersfield’s Magic Rock earlier this year. Lion also owns London’s Fourpure and a host of Australian and New Zealand breweries include Little Creatures and Castlemaine XXXX.

Burton based Marston’s are behind Revisionist, Shipyard and Devils Backbone beers in the UK – the latter two under licence from their US originators (Devils Backbone in the US being a subsidiary of AB InBev). They also own a host of cask ale brands including Wainwright, Ringwood, Wychwood, Banks’s, Young’s and Jennings.

Despite boasting a range of 682 beers worldwide, Danish giant Carlsberg has been relatively quiet in the UK ‘craft’ segment. They recently relaunched London Fields brewery which they and Brooklyn Brewery purchased in 2017 so you can expect to see these beers on more bars. Shed Head from Sweden’s Backyard Brew is another common Carlsberg ‘craft’ offering in the UK (the ‘backyard’ in the brewery’s name being that of Carlsberg’s massive plant in Falkenberg, Sweden).

Molson Coors is behind the UK’s most common cask ale brand Sharp’s Doom Bar, but their most significant move into the ‘craft’ segment in Europe was the purchase of Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery. They are also behind curry house stable Cobra. Guinness is another staple brand in thousands of pubs but seeing its sales fall, parent company Diageo launched Hophouse 13 lager in 2015 and has pushed it out to a wide variety of pubs who also stock its stout.

Even our local family brewers are seeking to appeal to new markets with ‘craft’ brands. Joseph Holt acquired the four-barrel Bootleg Brewery when they bought Chorlton’s Horse & Jockey pub in 2012. Since then ‘Bootleg’ beers brewed at Holt’s Cheetham Hill site have appeared in cask and keg across the Holt’s estate and the free trade. Meanwhile Salford’s Hydes markets beers under brands including The Beer Studio, Kansas Avenue Brewing Co and Provenance.

Talking Tech – Making Gluten Free Beer

In its basic form, beer is made from water, yeast, hops and malted barley. And malted barley naturally contains gluten – a family of proteins which help foods maintain their shape.

Approximately 1% of the UK’s population suffer from Coeliac disease – a serious autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks itself when gluten is eaten. Another 6% report an allergy or intolerance to gluten. So does this mean that they are denied the pleasure of good beer?

Photo: CAMRA

Thankfully not. Malted barley and wheat are used in brewing to provide the sugars that the yeast feeds on to produce alcohol, but they are not the only cereals which can be malted. While other common brewing adjuncts rye and oats do contain gluten, there are alternatives including sorghum, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, rice and maize which do not. 

Manchester based Green’s launched what they claim was the UK’s first naturally gluten free beer, Discovery Ale, in May 2004 (although the beer itself is brewed in Belgium). The beer was the result of years of research by gluten intolerant founder Derek Green, eventually teaming up with a Belgian professor who had a gluten intolerant daughter. Made with a combination of buckwheat, millet, sorghum, hops and brown rice, Discovery was followed by a naturally gluten free India Pale Ale and a dry hopped lager which are exported around the world.

The difficulty for those brewing with alternative grains is that as well as providing sugars, barley and other gluten containing cereals also impart much of the flavours and body associated with modern beers. Sorghum can tend to add too much sweetness to a beer and attempts to compensate for barley and rye flavours often lead to an unbalanced beer. Therefore, brewers like Greens need to work harder to match the flavour of traditional beer.

However, brewing with alternative grains is not the only way to produce ‘gluten free’ beers. In the UK and Europe, for a food stuff to be labelled ‘Gluten Free’ it must contain less than 20 parts per million (20ppm) of gluten. To take advantage of this, the brewing industry has developed special enzymes which break down the gluten proteins during fermentation of the beer. These have allowed brewers to produce beers using traditional ingredients and methods, but which contain extremely low levels of gluten in the finished product.

One such commonly used additive is ‘Brewers Clarex’ also known as ‘Clarity’, which is added to chilled wort at the start of fermentation. Clarex was originally developed to remove proteins from beer that could cause ‘chill haze’ and help brewers produce clearer beer. It was already widely in use before it was discovered that it also had the effect of breaking down the structure of gluten. 

Pioneers in this new technique included Green’s, along with Yorkshire’s Wold Top and Hambleton Ales and Cumbrian brewery Stringers. They have since been joined by a whole host of brewers across the country, some who have added one or two gluten free beers in their range, others whose entire production is gluten-free.

One local brewery in the latter category is Salford’s First Chop who have a full range of gluten free beer available in cans, bottles, kegs and cask. The proudly boast that all beers are tested to show a gluten content less than 5ppm. All their beers are also suitable for vegetarians.

Brightside Brewery, based in Radcliffe, use Clarex on all their beers which go into bottle, can and kegs (including sub-brand Wildside). Sales director Carley Friedrich explained to Beer Buzz that in order to be able to label their beers as gluten free, a sample of each brew has to be sent to an independent laboratory for testing. They must pay for this test and wait four days for the results to come back before they can release each batch. Thankfully, they’ve never had a brew fail the test. 

Wildside Gluten Free beer in cans. (Photo: Brightside Brewery)

Carley told Beer Buzz that Brightside saw the introduction of gluten free beers as a sales opportunity having noticed an increasing interest in gluten free products. Some 8.5 million people in the UK are now believed to be following a gluten free or gluten reduced lifestyle, the majority by choice rather than on medical grounds so it was a timely move on Brightside’s part.

Another local brewer who has made all production gluten free is Green Mill, based at the Harewood Arms pub in Broadbottom, Tameside. Brewer Mat Wild told Beer Buzz that they brewed their first GF beer two years ago when a gluten intolerant customer at the pub made them realise there are plenty of ale lovers out there who were being denied a choice of ales. Their full range of beers has been Gluten Free since early 2018. 

Other entrants into the gluten free market include Magic Rock’s Fantasma – a juicy 6.5% IPA available in can and keg and Origin, a 5.7% IPA from Leeds’ Northern Monk. 

Processing beers to remove gluten isn’t the answer for everyone though. Although 20ppm is accepted as a safe level for most gluten intolerant people, some coeliacs are sensitive to the small levels of gluten in such beers. In UK and European legislation, no distinction is made between products which have been made without any gluten containing ingredients and those which have been processed to remove or reduce gluten – as long as they have <20ppm they can be labelled Gluten Free.

However, this is not the case in the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. In the USA only beers made from gluten free ingredients can be labelled ‘gluten free’. Beers processed to remove gluten can only be labelled ‘gluten removed’ or ‘gluten reduced’. The US market also recognises “dedicated gluten free beer’ – this is beer made in a brewery which only produces gluten free beer and where there is therefore no risk of cross contamination.

Campaigners in the UK argue that the current rules in the UK fail those whose conditions requires them to avoid all trace of gluten, meaning they can’t rely on labelling to find naturally gluten free beers. There are also those that claim to industry standard test for gluten in beers (known as the R5 Competitive ELISA test – the latter an acronym for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) can show beers as gluten free which still contain the antigens which celiacs respond to.

The result of these concerns is a growing call from more naturally gluten free products. One relatively recent addition to the choice available is Steel Cut, a 4.5% naturally gluten free golden ale made with oats, buckwheat, maize and sorghum by Suffolk’s Burnt Mill brewery. It was developed after head brewer Sophie de Ronde discovered that she is gluten intolerant. 

Science is also seeking to give yet another option for sufferers with the development of gluten free barleys. Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has developed a barley called Kebari™ which has 10,000 less gluten than regular barley – around 5ppm. Edinburgh’s Bellfield Brewery has been running trials using the barley since 2016. 


The internet is a great source of information for Coeliacs and other gluten intolerance drinkers. There is a support group on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/Beers4Coeliacs

Charity Coeliac UK offers a food and drink directory to members listing gluten free beers on their website https://www.coeliac.org.uk

Other useful sources include:

https://www.allergy-insight.com/free-from-food/gluten-free/gluten-barley-and-wheat-free-beer/

glutenfreepassport.com/pages/gluten-free-beer-around-the-world

Local brewers producing gluten free beers:

www.firstchop.co.uk

brightsidebrewing.co.uk/

greenmillbrewery.com/

www.glutenfreebeers.co.uk/

Bar Buzz EXTRA

More news from our local pubs and bars

ALL CHANGE IN ALTRINCHAM

Outgoing manager Chris Bardsley with new boss Zoe West (Photo: Pi Altrincham)

Pi (Altrincham) has a new manager. Zoe West (pictured with former manager Chris Bardsley) took the helm at the bar on Shaw Road in April, having originally joined the team from West Didsbury’s Saison in 2017. She brings a wealth of experience in Good Beer Guide listed pubs including Chorlton’s The Bar (now The Chorlton Tap) and The Macc in Macclesfield. 

The vacancy at Pi arose when former manager Chris (Bardsley) departed to open a new bottle and keg shop in the town’s Kings Court  with his business partner Will Brown. Batch Bottle Store opened at the end of May with six keg lines and one cask line. The cask line will mostly be Pomona Island Pale – a constantly evolving brew with different hops in each batch. Bottles and cans will predominantly be UK based to start off but once settled in they will be bringing in beers from rest of the world. The store will also be hosting Tap Takeovers, Meet The Brewer and Tasting Sessions. Opening times are Sunday to Thursday, noon until  9.00 pm; Friday and Saturday, noon until midnight

Also in Altrincham, Rustic has a new owner. American Summer Smith is new to real ale but getting stuck right in. It is likely that Bradfield Brewery’s Farmers Blonde will become a regular beer, with three changing beers.

Selected cask ales will be two for £5 Tuesday to Thursday. Opening hours have been extended slightly with an earlier opening at noon on Saturdays.

The Tatton Arms on the southern outskirts of Altrincham also has a new licensee, Mags Wiaczek, who reopened the pub on the 18th May. She is new to the pub business but has plans to make the pub more family friendly than it has been in some of its past incarnations.

Mags has given the interior a redecoration and tried to keep the traditional look and feel to the pub returning old photographs of Altrincham to the walls.

There is a dart board and pool table, and some of the TVs have been removed. Food will be available lunch times, with bar snacks in the evening. The menu will have a Polish twist featuring Polish sausage, Sauerkraut with a traditional Polish dinner with apple pie being served at weekend.

Three hand pumps are installed and beers from JW Lees should be available by the time Beer Buzz goes to press.

Retrospective planning permission was granted for Altrincham’s Old Market Tavern to convert rooms above the pub into letting rooms. However, planners refused permission for the owners to also convert the parts of the building which were previously used as band practice rooms and a martial arts gym and required samples of all materials to be submitted to the authorities.

Just before Beer Buzz went to press, management of the pub passed to Kev Winkley, who has long connections with the pub. Kev told Beer Buzz he has plans to expand the cask ale range to six or seven regular ales.

Alex Dunne who bought The Elk, Hale in November last year, has given it a makeover. The interior and exterior have been redecorated, and a new bar and back bar installed. This gave them the opportunity to add an extra hand pump, and they now aim to have three ales available.

When Beer Buzz visited, Marston’s 61 Deep was the current regular beer with the two guests being Marston’s Wainwright and Robinsons Dizzy Blonde. The two guest pumps are rotated for other local and national beers from time to time.     

NEW BAR OPEN IN THE CITY

One of Manchester’s newest incarnations is that of Mash Tun, housed in the block which comprises 55 King Street. It’s at the far end of Pall Mall on the corner with Chapel Walks, taking over the former Grafene restaurant site (the bar being a joint venture with the owners of Grafene). 

On the menu are up to eight revolving real ales from micros and other established regionals (although when Beer Buzz called only three were available), plus ciders, perries and a further 16 taps for keg ales and lagers. There are no pump clips shown; all the beers are indicated on a chalkboard above the bar. The bar is to the left of the entrance with the brewing vessels (not yet in operation) towards the rear. 

Spacious areas give rise to wooden and tiled flooring, tables and chairs, plus some leather seating areas. A curious booth style raised into a mini-board room, with table and several chairs and differing window pane panels are to be found around the rear, where the room overlooks Chapel Walks. Food is also available, plus live music nights are a feature, with soft piped music playing at other times. 

Rose & Monkey (photo John O’Donnell)

As reported in the last issue of Beer Buzz, the former Burton Arms on Swan Street has completed it’s transformation into The Rose & Monkey Hotel. The pub now offers a full line up of live music featuring both original artists and cover bands.



IS PLASTIC FANTASTIC?

The Knott on Deansgate, Manchester has become the latest bar in the city to go cashless. The bar which acts as tap room to Wander Beyond Brewery moved to only accepting card payments from 1st May. 

The pub’s manager Simon Carroll blamed the move on rising banking charges for depositing cash and obtaining change. The statement pictured above was posted in the pub’s windows said they would rather not pass these costs on to customers in the form of increased beer prices. The proportion of cash sales made by pubs and bars across the city with many reporting that over three quarters of purchases are now made by card – at The Knott this had risen to 82% when they made the decision.

West Didsbury’s Wine & Wallop is another bar which has decided to only accept debit and credit card payments – with security being a factor in their decision. They join a growing number of bars across the city which now no longer accept cash including Cloudwater’s Unit 9, Track Brewery Tap Room, ÖL Nano Brewery & Bar on Oxford Road and Sandbar on Grosvenor Street.

SQUAWKING CINEMA

The team behind GRUB food fairs and Fairfield Social Club have teamed up with Squawk Brewery to open a new cinema and tap room in Ancoats. Located on the fourth floor of Crusader Mill on Chapeltown Street, the Chapeltown Picture House is immediately above the Track Brewery Tap Room.

The cinema space has a 4k projector and 5.1 sound system while the connected Squawk tap room will have six lines from the highly regarded brewing team based about a mile away. When not screening classic films like Terminator 2 and Back To The Future, the big screen will be used for video gaming. 

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/CPHMCR/

SWINTON SPEAKS

The extensive refurbishment of The Windmill on the top corner of Station Road was still ongoing as we went to press this has included major alterations to the building which include a new entrance, toilet block and smoking area to the rear. They have been closed for so long they had to reapply for a licence. 

The former Good beer Guide entry The Cock & Swine has now reopened as an Italian restaurant called Siena and they appear to only have Peroni available. 

Over the road at The White Swan their refurbishment has included an outside drinking area to the front, this was completed while the pub stayed open. 

Next for this treatment was The Cricketers on Manchester Road which should have started in May. Staff member Maureen Black was celebrating at Holt`s awards when she took the award for best front of house staff member back in march. Maureen has been here for over 25 years. 

Just along the road Roses ‘N’ Poses has been converted to a micro bar, and will open as The Wobberley Stool. (Hope they include a letter box in their plans). 

Egstra celebrations at The House Of Hops over Easter when glasses were raised for their first year of opening, Increasing the beers available to ten was a real bonus, well done Clare, Scott, Des & Staff (including unnamed bear). 

The Royal British Legion in Boothstown, have retained branch club of the year this year. The club puts on regular events and in November will be hosting the Boothstown Beer Festival. 

Over at The Royal Oad work continues with the vault having a face lift, the dart board has been relegated to the disco area in the back room. 

We have been informed that The Ellesmere in Winton has closed and that The Brown Cow & The Ship Canal have both been demolished.

OTHER NEWS

Following a lick of paint and a general spruce up late last year, Craig and Nikki Waite have taken over the Carters Arms, a Marston’s pub in Sale Moor. They have made an instant impact with two real ale pumps in action at the weekend, featuring a variety of different ales from the Marston’s range to accompany the Banks’s Bitter which is a permanent feature. Activity in the pub is thriving too with two pool teams in action on a Tuesday, a darts team on a Wednesday, bingo and a quiz on Thursdays, karaoke on Saturdays and killer pool and darts on Sundays. The traditional Bank Holiday music festivals also remain a popular feature of the Carters, taking place at the end of the late May and late August ones’.

The Nags Head (Photo: Tim Hawkes)

The Nags Head  in Urmston has reopened after a major refurbishment. The pub which is on Davyhulme Circle between Urmston centre and the Trafford Centre, has been moved into the Craft Union managed division of owner EI Group (formerly Enterprise Inns).

Many interesting internal features have survived the refit, including a fine snug (on the right as you enter) and the remnants of a traditional vault at the rear (now opened out). Elsewhere there are elaborate tiling on the staircase to the function room, some stained glass in the windows, wood carvings behind the bar, and wood panelling at the rear of the main drinking area. Perhaps surprisingly, bench seating round the walls has survived in all rooms, with only two tall ‘posing tables’ to represent modern fashion. 

There are large, flat screen televisions throughout the pub, and the rear yard has been opened up to drinkers as a modest beer garden with a heated shelter for smokers.

Cask ale is available at low prices. When Beer Buzz called, Sharp’s Doom Bar was £1.85 and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord costs £2.05. 

Flixton’s Fox & Hounds re-opened mid May after an extensive refurbishment throughout (including the long-awaited new kitchen). The pub has been re-branded The Fox : Pub & Kitchen, pushing fresh food on a weekly changing menu. There are three cask ales; Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, Robinsons’ Dizzy Blonde and another from Bombardier, Black Sheep or Doom Bar.

The pub is run by ‘Thornhill & Senior’ who also have ‘The Goose’ on Bloom Street in Manchester.

Chorlton’s The Beech Inn has been taken over by EI Group’s managed pub arm ‘Bermondsey Pub Co’. 

EI denied long term tenant Chris Clish a lease renewal after he and his team had spent nine years returning the previously failing pub back to being a thriving community local. 

The pub is due to re-open after refit in mid-July. 

Beer Buzz meets Marble Beers director Jan Rogers

Marble Brewery

Marble Beers have been at the forefront of Manchester’s brewing scene for over 20 years. They have come a long way since the legendary Brendan Dobbin first helped install a second hand four-barrel plant in the rear of the Marble Arch pub with the fermenters in the cellar of the pub in 1997.

In 2009 the brewery moved just down the hill from the Marble Arch to a new 12-barrel plant in premises on Williamson Street. Now as they enter their 22nd year, they have said farewell to Manchester and relocated to new premises in Salford with a shiny new 2,500 litre (approximately 15 barrel) state of the art plant installed by premium brewery fabricator Gravity Systems, who have been responsible for installations at leading breweries including The Kernel, Wylam and Burning Sky.

At the helm of the brewery since the beginning has been director Jan Rogers. 

Jan and then partner Vance de Bechevel were already successful operators at the forefront of the burgeoning micro-brewing scene in the 1990s with Vance having taken on The Marble Arch in 1988 and the couple going on to run Chorlton’s Marble World Beers Off-licence (living above the shop), followed by the nearby The Bar and Bar 2 when they began the brewery.

Beer Buzz met up with Jan at The Marble Arch to explore the Marble Beers journey.

Why did you decide to set up a brewery?

It was partly for the economics of selling our own beer but also to give people a reason to come to the pub. Even in 1997, competition was tough. Manchester was cool with the Hacienda, Dry Bar, etc, but the Marble Arch wasn’t cool. We needed to help keep the pub in the local consciousness – a brewery was a unique offering.

How did the brewery begin?

Right back from 1988, the Arch had sold beers from Brendan Dobbin’s West Coast Brewery along with Tony Allen’s Phoenix Brewery. Brendan found us the brewery plant and provided many of the original recipes. Mark Dade was running the pub and became the first brewer. 

Initially we only sold the beer in our own pubs but others were wanting our beer elsewhere so we started selling the odd cask. Sales began to grow organically. When Mark left to set up Boggart Hole Clough brewery, it was Brendan that found us James Campbell and it was the triumvirate of James, Dominic Driscoll and Colin Strong that really built our reputation.

Why did the brewery move out of The Arch?

We had outgrown the space we had and the building was crumbling around it. We did look at putting an extension on the back of the pub to house the new brewery but the finances just didn’t work out. 

So we moved to a railway arch with a brand new kit from Vince Johnson Brewing Design. The brewers had space and were having a ball making some amazing beers. As sales continued to grow, we learnt that a split-level site maybe wasn’t the best idea. By the end, it was not a great place to work – everybody was falling over themselves in the brewery and the office staff were half a mile away above 57 Thomas Street.

And so a move to Salford?

We spent a long time looking for a new site in the local area, we met with every agency, lots of developers. But with all the development around the Green Quarter, with every space we found, there was a more lucrative use for the space than running a brewery. So eventually we looked elsewhere and found the new site near Media City.

It’s great that we’ve been able to bring the whole team back together – head office and brewery all in one building. People are getting used to travelling a bit further to work and there is a bit of relearning of sharing a space required – the brewers can’t have their music as loud as they like it for a start – but we are getting there.

The first Marble brewery kit went on to a new life with Blackjack Beers. What’s happened to the second one?

We sold it to Brinkburn Street Brewery in Newcastle Upon Tyne. We’ve known the owner there Lee Renshaw for some time and helped him start his business. Now they are increasing their production, it’s great to have been able to help them again.

The new Marble plant is relatively modest by modern standards. Was there not a temptation to get a bigger kit?

We like the size we are. We are growing modestly but there’s a duty break at 5,000 hectolitres a year and we have no current ambitions to grow beyond that. The new plant and site does allow room to grow in the future but that will be something for Joe (Head of Production) to look at when the time comes. 

Pint pump clip

The brewers have got a couple of 50hl tanks which allows the team to brew enough Manchester Bitter and Pint to meet demand – they are the backbone of the brewery and give the brewers the freedom to make other beers. 

Joe may decide to grow beyond 5,000 hl at some point but for now we are happy.

So Marble won’t be appearing on supermarket shelves nationwide any time soon?

I have nothing against supermarkets and it’s great that people can pick up a great tasting beer with their shopping. But as a businesswoman, it’s not for me – I don’t like the control that big businesses like that can have over their suppliers. We did work with Waitrose through Fullers, but Fullers dealt with that side. 

I don’t begrudge those that have gone down the supermarket route, each to their own and if that’s a model that suits them, all power to them. But ultimately, if supermarkets were the be all and end all, there would only be a handful of breweries left. We like being small, we like being independent and intend to stay that way.

Where do you see Marble fitting in to the ‘craft’ scene.

That’s for you to tell us. 

I don’t consider us ‘craft’ – we just do what we do. We do ‘traditional’ and we do ‘modern’ – I don’t know what that makes us. We were called ‘New Wave’ at one point but that didn’t seem right either. 

Manchester Bitter

Our mission is to straddle the genres. We want people to appreciate the full spectrum that beer has to offer. There is still a lot going for the subtle flavours of a pint of traditional English ale.  There does seem to be a growing appreciation that there is more to beer than 12% stouts and extremely hopped beers and that’s something we are passionate about.

Hopefully we are seeing the end of the beer scene arguing about different styles and different formats with people learning that it all has its place and is what makes beer great.  

We’ve got a really great and stable team down the brewery. Joe is at the helm, organising and planning. He started at Phoenix in Heywood and through his time with Buxton and Magic Rock, he’s got the experience of a growing brewery. 

Slaw is lead brewer and is about to step up to run the brewery while Joe is on paternity leave.  I asked him recently if he was going to be OK when Joe goes on leave – “No problem”, he said, “I’ve done it before (when Matt Howgate left)”. Paul and Carl have been with us for a few years now, providing solid backup to Joe and Slaw, and we’ve just taken on Andy who has joined us from Phoenix. And last but no means least is Graham running the dray. 

Marble Brewery Team
Marble Beers team:
Left to right Back Row, Joe, Carl, Magda; Left to right Front Row, Diana, Karen, Slaw, Andy and Paul.
Photo: Marble Beers

The brewery will have a tap room?

Yes, it won’t be large and it won’t be fancy but we are looking forward to welcoming people to the brewery. We’ve built a blockwork bar but the rest of the design is only just coming together. We plan to offer eight keg beers and three cask and will open Thursday and Friday late afternoon/evening then all day Saturday and Sunday. 

With Seven Bro7hers and Pomona Island Breweries and taprooms just the other side of Weaste cemetery, we hope people will come out and see us. 

We also plan to offer brewery tours – something we just couldn’t do at the old site as it wasn’t safe to do so. 

The Marble Beers Tap Room is expected to be open by the time Beer Buzz hits the streets. It will open from Thursday to Sunday offering eight keg lines and three cask lines. It’s located at 7 Boston Court, Salford, M50 2GN. Nearest Metrolink stop Langworthy.

Champion Beer of Britain (CBoB) – how it works

The Champion Beer Of Britain (CBoB) competition is one of CAMRA’s flagship awards and is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards by the breweries in the United Kingdom that win it. 

There are eight CBoB areas, – these are London & South East, South West, East Anglia, East Midlands, West Midlands, North East & Yorkshire, Scotland & Northern Ireland and North West – these don’t mirror the 16 CAMRA regions, and some CBoB areas cover more than one CAMRA region.  

There are currently competitions covering 11 beer styles – milds, bitters, best bitters, golden ales, strong bitters, speciality beers, old ales/strong milds, stouts, porters and barley wines/strong old ales, and bottled varieties. CAMRA is currently reviewing its beer styles guide so these styles may change in future.

Nominations process

Every year in September CAMRA members  nominate their favourite beers, up to five in each style. Also at this stage, tasting panels from each CAMRA region have their chance to nominate beers they believe should go forward to the next stage. The results from members’ votes, and the tasting panel nominations  form a short list of the most recommended beers.

Ideally the next stage is for local judging. This is usually at CAMRA or pub based beer festivals, to give the opportunity to select an area winner. This can be a prestigious local award. These choices can then go forward to judging at The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) and GBBF Winter (for the four winter beer styles – old ales/strong milds, stouts, porters and barley wines/strong old ales) and, hence, to find CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain (and Champion Winter Beer of Britain).

The Finals

At the GBBF the final CBoB category judging of the area winners takes place, with one winning beer from the Speciality Beer, Mild and Strong Bitter categories, coupled with two each from the Bitter, Golden Ale and Best Bitter categories proceeding into the final round in order to judge the Supreme Champion, which is crowned the best beer in Britain. The reason for two beers each from the Bitter, Golden Ale and Best Bitter categories is to accommodate for the proportionate share of the commercial beer market these beer styles command.

Four beers are fast tracked to the final round at GBBF; these are the winners of each category of the Champion Winter Beer of Britain (CWBoB) competition, held at the GBBF Winter festival in January-February each year. As these beers were judged to be the Champion Beers of their style earlier in the year, they are entered automatically into the final round of CBoB.

The CWBoB competition is similar in its structure to CBoB, as the final round of judging is made up of beers having reached this stage via the process of CAMRA members’ and tasting panels’ nominations, followed by area competition success. The categories in this competition are Old Ales/Strong Milds, Porters, Stouts and Barley Wines/Strong Old Ales.

There is a separate competition for the Champion Bottled Beer of Britain (which now includes cans too). Like CBoB the structure of the competition relies upon CAMRA members and tasting panel nominations, followed by the area competitions, with the final usually held at the BBC Good Food Show in November.

Eligibility

Beers are categorised according to their ABV, as it is now considered that this is more reflective of style and easier for most beer drinkers to understand.  To be eligible for CBOB, a cask conditioned bitter, best bitter, strong bitter or golden ale must be available for seven or more months of the year, and a cask conditioned mild or speciality beer must be available for three or more months of the year, or the cask beer must be one of the beer styles associated with the winter season. We also categorise according to their Original Gravity (OG). If we have two beers with the same abv then we turn to the OG.

Beers with misleadingly promoted geographical origin, brands with non-cask versions promoted using CAMRA awards, or beers which have sexist or otherwise discriminatory pump clips or other branding are excluded.

Graham Donning

Roll out the barrels


Beer festival organisers herald another successful festival

An extended version of the review from our April – June 2019 issue…..

There was a treat in store for visitors to the preview session of January’s Manchester Beer and Cider Festival when the UK’s only independent Master Cooper gave a demonstration of his craft.

Organisers invited Alastair Simms from Yorkshire Cooperage to complement one of the new attractions, the Beers from the Wood bar. Arranged with support from the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, both Alastair and the bar proved big hits with festival goers at Manchester Central’s great hall. The bar was so popular, it had been drunk dry three hours before Saturday’s closing time, as drinkers sampled both traditional and new beers put into oak and chestnut barrels.

Photo: James Darcey
Continue reading “Roll out the barrels”

Bar Buzz EXTRA – April 2019

Beer Expos at The Prairie Schooner

Urmston’s Prairie Schooner Taphouse let Beer Buzz know about a new series of events,

Although their main commitment will always be to local brewers, they are launching a series of regional beer showcases on the first weekend of every month.

Their first ‘Beer Expo’ at the start of April focussed on London brewers. This will be ,followed by Wales and the Peak District at the beginning and end of May respectively (latter forming part of a larger beer, cider and music festival)

Showcases dedicated to breweries from Newcastle, Bristol, Scotland and Leeds are also being planned.  

Dates for your diary:

  • Welsh Beer Expo is scheduled for the first weekend of May (brewers TBA)
  • Spring Cider & Music festival will kick off with a cider & cheese night on Weds, May 22nd. Local bands will be playing live music daily on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday (acts and cidermakers TBA)
  • Peak District Beer Expo will begin with a Thornbridge cask and keg tap takeover with street food on Weds, May 29th (other brewers TBA)
New craft beer bar & restaurant for King Street

As Beer Buzz Issue 2 went to press, news broke of a new venue set to open on King Street, Manchester.

The Mash Tun is due to open on April 19th in the site formerly occupied by Grafene Restaurant at 55 King Street.

The venue is being opened by Adam Regan who opened Stage and Radio bar beside Port Street Beer House in the Northern Quarter and Scott Martin who runs Fundamentum bakery on Piccadilly Place, working with Grafene’s former owners Paul & Kathryn Roden.

It promises a host of local ‘real ales’ and beers from local breweries including
CloudwaterRunaway and Beatnikz Republic and a range of their own ales. Advertising a total of 26 taps along a 12m long bar, it’s not clear if there will be any cask conditioned beers available.

The menu will include a mix and match selection of ten different sausages and ten different mashes, with choice of gravies. There will also be ligher lunch options and baked goods from Fundamentum’s bakery.

The venue will feature live music Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with the bar due to be open until 3am. at weekends.