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!