Manchester Beer Week – Part One

 

 


Last Friday marked the beginning of Manchester Beer Week – Manchester’s only city-wide beer festival. The fortnight of festivities includes a variety of events from tap takeovers to brewery tours and educational talks and beer-based quizzes. There’s been so much going on that I wish I’d been able to take the whole two weeks off work and explore everything!

As soon as it was time to clock off work last Friday, my boyfriend and I headed out to Plant Noma for our first event of the festival – a discussion about how and if craft breweries should be giving back and working with people in the communities they are based. The discussion was facilitated by Manchester Beer Weeks’ organiser, Connor Murphy and included Jim Cullen, founder and organiser of The Independent Salford Beer Festival and Jenn Merrick, who used to be Head Brewer at Beavertown Brewery and is now setting up her own community brewery in East London called Earth Station.

It was a great start to the festival and a really interesting insight into some of the things that breweries are already doing to engage with their local communities. A particularly interesting part of the conversation was about taking on people from within local communities as brewing apprentices and the positive affects this can have, as well as the challenges. Many of the other attendees at the talk worked in the industry and were talking about how hard it is to retain brewers and that there is a real skills shortage. It was really interesting to hear from people actually working in the industry and the challenges they face. I really like the idea of breweries training up young people and supporting them through a career they may never have considered and also giving back to the communities they work in, as many already do. However I can also see how hard that must be for various reasons. Jenn Merrick’s Earth Station is a wonderful idea and I can’t wait to hear more about it and (hopefully) visit at some point.

For our next stop, we headed to Hatch on Oxford Road for a tap takeover at ÖL Nano Brewery & Bar on Oxford Road. The takeover was with Croatian brewery Nova Runda, who I hadn’t heard of before but did not disappoint. I had three great Nova Runda beers while I was there, however the one that stood out the most was their American style IPA, C4. Very hoppy and citrusy – perfect for the heatwave we’ve been having here in Manchester (and the UK as a whole). I’m looking forward to trying more beers from Nova Runda in future. There seems to be a lot of really interesting craft breweries coming out of Croatia at the moment…Garden Brewery, Nova Runda…perhaps a trip is on the cards.

IMG_2765We didn’t want to stay out too late because we were attending The Pilcrow‘s Summer Beer Thing the next day, however we made a quick stop on our way home at Sandbar on Grosvenor Street. Sandbar were holding a tap takeover as well with Boutilliers Microbrewery from Faversham, UK – another brewery newly on my radar that I was keen to try out. Boutilliers’ beer did not disappoint, especially their Anti-Trump Fruit Saison which had a political message I can definitely get on board with, as well as being incredibly delicious. Sandbar is a great spot for craft beer and somewhere I’ve only discovered fairly recently as it’s in the more studenty part of town, which we don’t go to so often. I really like the atmosphere in Sandbar and love all the little hidden rooms towards the back. One of my new found favourite spots in Manchester.

The next day we woke up raring to go for our second day of Manchester Beer Week activities. Before heading over to Summer Beer Thing, we popped in to our most local and favourite brewery, Runaway. We always like having a chat with Mark, Co-founder and Head Brewer at Runaway Brewery, as he is super friendly and welcoming. We were keen to try their new collaboration with local sushi restaurant Umezushi, Gari Gose brewed with seaweed, root ginger, wah plums and sushi rice. It was delicious and so unique. We only had a half each because we were keen not to drink too much before Summer Beer Thing but we could have drank a lot more. We will be back!

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After our brief stop at Runaway we headed over to the main event of the day – Summer Beer Thing at The Pilcrow. This was day two of the festival, showcasing some of the very best breweries in the North. There were a number of ‘beer stations’ offering different types of beers, from hoppy styles to sours and fruity beers and darker stouts and porters. Session ales were available inside at The Pilcrow bar and all the other stalls were set up outside under a giant yellow gazebo. It was such a sunny beautiful day and everyone was sitting outside, either on the benches inside the tent or on the walls around The Pilcrow.

We traded in our tickets in exchange for a programme with all the beers listed and a glass. Like most beer festivals, it was based on a token system so we bought 9 tokens between us for £20 to start off with. The beer was served in thirds, which I appreciated because it meant that I was able to try more different styles than I would have done if the servings had been larger. I’m not going to go into detail about all the beers I had because there were so many, but what I will say is there was an amazing selection, showing off the very best the North has to offer. They also featured breweries from further afield and there were ‘meet the brewer’ sessions throughout the day where you could try free samples – I particularly enjoyed meeting some of the team from Lost and Grounded and trying their Keller Pils!

I loved the relaxed and friendly atmosphere at Summer Beer Thing – it was just full of people having a brilliant time and enjoying great beer. In fact all the activities we’ve done so far as part of Manchester Beer Week has just reaffirmed to me how much I love this city and the expansive brewery scene we have here.

Thankfully the festivities continue until Sunday 8th July, so come back soon to hear more about the last weekend of Manchester Beer Week!

Huddersfield Part Two – Seshfest 2018

Following an excellent Friday night at The Sportsman and Magic Rock Brewing, the next day (Saturday 9th June) we headed back to Magic Rock for Seshfest 2018 – a beer festival dedicated to session brews 4.5% and under.

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Seshfest beer tokens

We arrived bang on 12.00pm for the start of the festival and were given a special Seshfest pint glass, a beer list and four beer tokens at the registration desk. The festival worked on a token-based system and I felt like this actually added to the experience. My boyfriend and I bought an extra £20’s worth of tokens, as we were planning to sample as many different beers as we could. Each token was worth £1.50 and you could choose when ordering your beer whether you wanted a half for one token or a pint for two tokens.

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Dark Woods Coffee to begin

Before starting on the beers we had a coffee from Dark Woods Coffee, who were serving at the festival until 3.00pm. I think this was probably a sensible way to begin and the coffee was excellent. It’s the same coffee that Magic Rock uses in their Common Grounds Triple Coffee Porter, so we already knew it would be good.

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Oni Kawaii Kettle Sour by Gigantic Brewing, Portland

Sufficiently caffeinated, we moved on to our first beer of the day. We were both excited to get our first beers from Gigantic Brewing, a brewery based in Portland, Oregon. We visited Portland last summer and had the most amazing time visiting fantastic breweries, so we were keen to relive that experience with some beers from Gigantic. I opted for the Oni Kawaii Kettle Sour, which the friendly brewer serving me said is made using Marionberries which can be found in Oregon. Bright pink in colour and wonderfully sour and flavourful, this beer was a great way to start and hard to beat.

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The very juicy Proto 5 from Brewski

We decided to sample beers from the breweries we knew least about or would find harder to try in future. There were some really unusual but interesting styles available at Seshfest. My boyfriend had a Green Coffee Lager with Ginger and Citrus called the Anaconda Verde from Against the Grain Brewery (Louisville, Kentucky), which was a lot more tasty and well balanced than I had anticipated. One beer that stood out for me was the Proto 5 from Swedish brewery Brewski – a Milkshake Berliner Weisse with Mango which was so juicy it felt like you were drinking pure mango, but with the sharpness of a great sour.

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Important beer admin

I had so many great beers at Seshfest that it wouldn’t be possible to go into great detail about all of them, but there are just a few more I’d like to highlight and then I’ll post the rest at the bottom of this blog with a short, one line description. I hadn’t heard of Deya Brewing Company from Cheltenham before Seshfest, so I was keen to try them out. The Chulahoma Rye Table Beer from Deya was one of the best I had during the festival. Dry hopped with Amarillio, Chinook and Mosaic, this citrusy beer with tropical notes was so delicious. If I hadn’t been set on trying as many different beers as possible, I would have definitely gone back for a pint.

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View from inside the festival

I also had a wonderful Sour Red Ale from Bristol brewery, Left Handed Giant. This collaboration with Unity Brewery Company is really unique. I’d never had a sour red ale before and as a huge fan of sours and red ales I was really intrigued. This light, fruity sour is also very malty and I don’t know quite how they’ve done it. At 3.5% it’s extremely sessionable but also so much more flavoursome than what I used to expect of such low ABV beers (although so many beers I’ve tried recently are altering my opinions on this). I would highly recommend.

Still Life, a collaboration between Beavertown and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego also deserves an honourable mention. This Dry Hopped Sour, fermented with wine yeast was so light and refreshing and not that easy to come by, so I felt lucky to be able to try it at Seshfest.

thumb_IMG_2705_1024Seshfest was a great beer festival which was small enough to maintain a friendly and relaxed vibe, while being big enough to create a buzzing atmosphere. Despite the small amount of space at Magic Rock Brewing in Huddersfield, it never felt too crowded or overbearing. There was an abundance of fantastic beers available from the world’s best breweries and it was well organised, with beers only running out towards the evening, with plenty still available. It was also amazing value for money. Our £13 ticket provided us with a pint glass and enough tokens for four half pints and then we only spent around an extra £20 on tokens between us – a lot less than you would spend at most beer festivals.

Seshfest 2018 was an amazing experience and all I have left to say is bring on next year!

thumb_IMG_2710_1024Full list of the beers we had at Seshfest 2018

  • Gigantic Brewing, Oni Kawaii, 4.1%, Keg – Kettle Sour beer made with black rice and marionberries
  • Gigantic Brewing, Kolshtastic, 4.5%, Keg – German style pilsner with noble hops and kolsh yeast
  • Slim Pickens and Marble Beers, Agua De Jamaica, 3.5%, Keg- Hibiscus Berliner Weisse with ginger and lime
  • Roosters and Ska Brewing, Anything Gose, 4.2%, Keg – Rhubarb Gose with sea salt
  • Beavertown and Mikkeller, Still Life, 3%, Keg – Dry hopped sour fermented with white wine yeast
  • Against the Grain, Anaconda Verde, 4.5%, Keg – Green coffee lager with ginger and citrus
  • Brewski, Proto 5, 3.5%, Keg – Milkshake berliner weisse with mango
  • Buxton Brewery, Myrcia, 4%, Keg – Oatmeal Hopburst Session IPA brewed with 15% oats and 10% wheat for a really full body and creamy mouthfeel
  • Deya, Chulahoma, 4%, Keg – Rye table beer
  • CR/AK, Mundaka, 4.5%, Keg – Fragrant and easy drinking session IPA
  • Fyne Ales, Sour Friends: Passionfruit, 4.5%, Keg – Super-fruity kettle sour with tropical passion fruit and a citrus finish
  • Brouweriji Kees, Pinapple Coriander Smoothy, 4.4%, Keg – A beer smoothy, brewed with Pineapple, Coriander and Szuchuan pepper
  • Odell Brewing Company, Duck Tickler, 4.4%, Keg – Easy drinking Belgian Golden Ale
  • North Brewing Company, Pinata, 4.4%, Keg – A softly tropical pale ale with stone fruit aromas of guava and mango and a strong hoppy finish
  • Thornbridge, Green Mountain, 4.3%, Keg – Juicy New England session pale
  • Verdant, Quiet Charge, 4%, Keg – American style pale ale with citra and amarillo hops
  • Roosters, Jubilee, 4%, Keg – Refreshing cucumber ale
  • Ossett Brewery, Inception, 4%, Cask – A heavy hopped American IPA
  • Wild Beer Company, Sleeping Lemons, 4.6% (breaking the rules slightly!), Keg – A salty lemon gose
  • Basqueland Brewing, Fruit Boot JR, 4.3%, Keg – Milkshake IPA with passion fruit and mango
  • Kirkstall Brewery, Three Swords, 4.5%, Cask – Thirst quenching English pale ale
  • Left Handed Giant, Distinct Phases, 3.5%, Keg – Sour red ale
  • North Riding Brewery, Mosaic Pale, 4.3%, Cask – American Mosaic pale ale with blueberry and citrus flavours
  • Northern Monk, Patrons Project 5.01// Striding Edge, 3%, Keg – A light IPA with big flavours

 

Huddersfield Part One – The Sportsman

Last weekend was one my boyfriend and I had been eagerly anticipating for a long time – Seshfest 2018 at Magic Rock Brewing in Huddersfield. To make the trip feel even more like a mini-holiday, we decided to head over on the Friday night as we’d heard about a Tap Takeover taking place at a pub called The Sportsman. Huddersfield is very easy to reach from Manchester – only 30 minutes away on the train. When we arrived we headed over to our hotel to check-in and leave our stuff and then went straight back out again to begin the weekend festivities at The Sportsman.

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Drop by Electric Bear Brewing Company
The Tap Takeover at The Sportsman was a range of breweries from Bristol and Bath, many of which we had sampled before or had heard great things about. The first beer I had was an American style red ale from Electric Bear Brewing Company. I am a fan of a red ale but don’t tend to have them very often and at 4.3% this was a great sessionable option. Drop is a really lovely malty beer with caramel notes and a very subtle taste of orange.

 

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Raw by Moor Beer Company
The next beer I had was the Raw English Bitter by Moor Beer Company. I decided I wanted stay on the session ales to keep in line with Seshfest the next day, which would only be serving beers 4.5% and below. Raw is also 4.3% and has a rich malt base and is full of flavour. I don’t tend to drink bitter, but this one is really enjoyable. Dry-hopped with a light fruit flavour, Raw is great for those who like clean, easy drinking bitters.

 

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The Sportsman, Huddersfield

The Sportsman itself has a relaxed vibe and feels like a classic English pub with a slight modern edge. It’s very welcoming, from its friendly staff to its comfortable soft seats. The bar is the central point, with small rooms to the left and right with more spaces to sit and enjoy the excellent selection of ales. The food was fantastic too and excellent value for money. We both had a pie with mushy peas, chips and gravy – a steal at just £7.95. Considering the main focus of the menu is pies, there were also some good veggie and vegan options available. I am pescatarian, so eat fish but no other meat and I opted for the fish pie but I was really pleased that I was able to choose to have veggie gravy with it. I think it’s great that even pubs that are serving traditional style British food are embracing the need to offer good veggie and vegan alternatives.

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Magic Rock taproom the night before Seshfest
We didn’t want to drink too much before Seshfest, so we decided to head back via the Magic Rock taproom. It was quite exciting to visit the brewery knowing that the next day it would be transformed for the festival, and also seeing the areas where each brewery would be the next day. The taproom had the same feeling you get the Thursday night before a music festival begins, there was an exciting atmosphere and the happy buzz of conversation in anticipation of the next day’s festivities. It seemed as though the taproom was mainly full of the brewers who would be serving at Seshfest and my boyfriend and I couldn’t help but look around at all the different t-shirts and hoodies embossed with the branding of breweries from the UK and around the world.

 

After sampling Magic Rocks’ Micromachine and Timequake session IPAs, we headed back to our hotel to get an early night before Seshfest 2018.

Thanks for reading! If you want to hear more about Seshfest 2018 itself, then please come back to the blog later this week where I’ll be posting a full account of the event and the beers on offer.

Low ABV beers

Unintentionally, I have recently been sampling a lot of low ABV (alcohol by volume) beers. It seems as though more and more people are on the look out for beers with a lower alcohol content, so I felt it would be a good idea to write a piece about some of the great ones I’ve tried recently. It’s worth mentioning now that although the beers I am writing about here have an alcohol content lower than most beers, they are still alcoholic and are not classed as non-alcoholic beers.

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Picnic Sour Ale by Brekeriet Beer Ab, also featuring by basil and chilli plants

The first beer I’m going to talk about is one that was including in my BeerBods subscription this month – Picnic Sour Ale by Brekeriet from Sweden. This is a Rhubarb sour made with Lactobacillus yeast and at only 2.2% it is one of the lowest alcohol sours I have ever tried. I think the name is very fitting as this would be the perfect beer to drink at a picnic on a warm summers day when you don’t fancy drinking too much. It’s a very powerful sour that packs a lot of punch, with a lovely refreshing taste of fruity rhubarb. This would be great for all the sour beer lovers out there who are on the look out for something a bit lighter.

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White Out IPA by Cromarty Brewing Company

Next up is another one from BeerBods – White Out IPA by Cromarty Brewing Company. This one is a fair bit stronger at 3.8%, but still very light and sessionable. White Out IPA is made with Citra, Mosaic and Motueka hops with a wheat based malt. It’s really light and refreshing but you get a big hit of hops as it gets to the back of your tongue. It’s quite hazy and wheaty and definitely fits into the ‘easy drinking’ category. A wonderful summer beer.

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Northern Lights Micro IPA by Whiplash

The final beer is Northern Lights Micro IPA by Whiplash Brewery. I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently this beer was brewed for Hop City Leeds beer festival with Northern Monk. Whiplash are based in Wicklow, Ireland and at 2.8% this pineapple and hop-filled beer is surprisingly delicious. I could happily drink many of these – I don’t think I’ve ever had such a low ABV beer that is so well-balanced, hazy and hoppy. I will need to try and track down more cans of Northern Lights because it really is a fantastic beer. I bought this can from a beer shop in Cardiff a few weeks ago, so not sure how easy it will be to find more, however I am definitely keen to try more from Whiplash if this beer is anything to go by.

Thanks for reading and do get in touch if you’ve had any low ABV beers recently that you would recommend. Next weekend I’m off to Magic Rock Brewery in Huddersfield for Seshfest – a one-day beer festival dedicated to session beers below 4.5%, so I’m sure I’ll be writing more about session/low ABV beers very soon.

Focus on: CR/AK Brewery

Recently I have become a bit obsessed with Italian brewery CR/AK. I first heard about CR/AK through a post from Honest Brew, an online craft beer delivery service, and then saw some of their beers when I visited Pop ‘N’ Hops bottle shop in Cardiff a few weeks ago. I bought a Guerrilla IPA from CR/AK during my visit to Pop ‘N’ Hops, which is a delicious IPA with notes of orange. It was also quite sessionable, despite it’s strength at 5.8 per cent. I decided I wanted to try more of what CR/AK has to offer so I put in an order at Honest Brew.

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CR/AK Brewery haul from Honest Brew

When the four beers I had ordered arrived, I just couldn’t stop looking at them. The artwork on CR/AK’ cans is so eye-catching and I was almost too excited by them to drink them. It wasn’t until about a week later that my boyfriend and I decided to tuck in.

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Love this can

We decided to start with the lowest percentage beer and move up from there (not sure there’s much logic to that approach however…). We had The Hunchback Session IPA to begin – a collaboration with Fyne Ales from Cairndow, Scotland. My first thought about this beer was that it’s hoppy, very sessionable and has zesty and fruity flavours without being too sweet. The Hunchback has a big hit of hops on the nose and is light in colour and slightly cloudy. I tend to find that beers this hoppy have a higher ABV, but at 3 per cent I could easily drink many of these cans. We were off to a very good start!

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My kind of beer

Next we moved on to the New England IPA, which I was particularly excited for as I always seem to gravitate towards NEIPA’s. This beer is double dry hopped with amarillo, citra, mosaic and motueka hops and as I had expected, it was my favourite of all the CR/AK beers we ordered. It is quite juicy with tropical notes and also hazy. Not sure if it’s because of the way the beer has been double dry hopped, but I found it to be a very interesting and complex. It definitely has a bitterness to it, more so than most NEIPA’s I’ve had, but I loved it.

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NZ Gluten Free IPA

We moved on to the New Zealand Gluten Free IPA next, which ended up being my boyfriends favourite. This is another really great beer. It has a citric aroma and a tropical taste of grapefruit and is made with NZ hops motueka and wakatu. This beer has a subtle sweetness to it and feels far too easy to drink considering it’s high ABV of 7 per cent. There seems to be a lot more gluten free beers available on the market now and I definitely feel like they’ve improved considerably over the last few years. I would very much enjoy drinking this one while relaxing outside on a sunny day.

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Juicy orange DIPA

Last but not least, we had the Cyro Adult Double IPA – a collaboration with Magic Rock, which is one of my favourite UK breweries (based in Huddersfield). This is a strong and bold beer. It tastes very juicy and has flavours of bitter orange. On first sip, this tastes quite soft for a DIPA, however it has a boozy kick as it hits the back of your mouth. I did not want this one to end as it was the last of our CR/AK haul, which we had enjoyed so much. It was probably a good thing that it did though, as Cyro Adult is deceivingly strong. It’s so tasty that you could easily drink a lot of it, however I was definitely starting to feel it’s strength towards the end. A great collaboration.

I think CR/AK is a really exciting brewery that create a variety of really interesting and bold beers. I am now keen to try and plan a trip to Padova so we can visit the CR/AK taproom, which has 24 taps and also features an experimental beer called “Tap Crak”.

Until then, I am looking forward to trying more beer from CR/AK at the Magic Rock Sesh Fest festival in a few weeks time. All beers poured at this festival will be under 4.5 per cent so I’ll be interested to see what CR/AK has on offer, as the only beer in our haul under 4.5 was The Hunchback.

Cardiff Craft Crawl

This weekend I went to Cardiff to visit my Dad and his wife. They moved there about three years ago and I always love going to stay, as there is loads going on for a city that is so walkable. There are plenty of great pubs in Cardiff, so I’m sure I’ll write about my visits again at some point, however I’m just going to focus on a handful of places in this post.

thumb_IMG_2559_1024It was a lovely day on Saturday, so we decided to begin our afternoon crawl in The Pen and Wig on Park Grove, which has an excellent beer garden. I’ve been there a few times before and they always have a wide selection of cask beers available, as well as a few keg options too. I chose a beer I hadn’t had before which was recommended to me by one of the lovely bar staff – Mr Mojo Pale Ale from local brewery Crafty Devil. I always try to sample local breweries when I can and this American style pale did not disappoint. Mr Mojo is intensely hoppy and full of tropical flavours and left my Dad and boyfriend jealous – I would highly recommend.

Next on our mini crawl was Zero Degrees Microbrewery and Restaurant, which as well as having a large venue in Cardiff, has bases in Bristol, Reading and Blackheath, London. We had not been here before so I was keen to check it out. I chose a Belgian Witbier which was very much up my street. I would say it has quite a subtle taste but if you like a wheat beer, as I do, then you will like this. I would like to visit Zerodegrees again at some point to try the food, as there were amazing aromas coming from the kitchen during our visit.

Our last pub stop is one of my favourites in Cardiff – Tiny Rebel Brewery. The brewery itself is based in Newport and I’ve not had the chance to visit yet, however the bar in Cardiff is somewhere I try to go to every time I’m there. They always have an extensive selection of beers on tap, mostly their own but a few others too, and I’ve visited before when they’ve had tap takeovers as well. I had the Dutty Vermont Session IPA – a cloudy and golden beer with lovely notes of grapefruit and citrus. I’ve heard some say that they find this a bit hazy, but I like hazy beers personally. My Dad had two pints of Tiny Rebel’s Stay Puft Nitro – a marshmallow porter and probably one of his favourite beers ever. He first discovered this far too easy to drink porter on our last visit to Tiny Rebel and he has been raving about it ever since. My boyfriend also opted for the Stay Puft Nitro and gave it an equally glowing review – commenting on how easily it goes down. I’ve never been much of a porter drinker – I do like it but I always find I can’t drink too much of it – however this one could change my mind.

To finish this blog I want to mention two great bottle shops in Cardiff, which we visited on Sunday to stock up before our trip back up to Manchester. The first is one that my Dad has taken me to before and is a bit of a hidden secret (well, that’s what my Dad says anyway). It’s called Discount Supermarket and it’s on Whitchurch Road. You would never know it without going inside, but this place has one of the most incredible beer selections I’ve seen. It has a huge amount of Belgian beers, as well as lots and lots of beers from UK craft breweries and American breweries. I picked up loads from there, including an old fashioned lemonade IPA from Evil Twin Brewing (Brooklyn, New York), a ‘Wanna go to the Sun’ citra and mosaic pale from Lost and Grounded (Bristol, UK) and a brewery I’d never heard of before called Whiplash who brewed this particular beer at Larkin’s Brewing Company (Wicklow, Ireland).

While on our way to visit Discount Supermarket, we also discovered another gem on Whitchurch Road – Pop’n’Hops. We’d never seen this little place before, which sells both records and craft beer, despite it being there for over a year. It has a great selection of beers from the UK and from across the world and the staff are super friendly and helpful. My boyfriend had a quick peruse of the records, but I was a bit too over excited by the beer selection. We chose a Guerrilla IPA from CR/AK Brewery (Padova, Italy) that I had been keen to try for a while, as well as a few from Welsh breweries West by Three (Swansea) and Rival Brewing Company (Cardiff).

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If you live in Cardiff, or are just visiting or passing through, these bottle shops are not to be missed. If you do find yourself there at some point, please do get in touch and let me know what you picked up!

I haven’t tried most of the beers that I bought in my haul yet so look out for a feature on those in an upcoming blog…

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Coming soon…

 

Blackjack April Brewtap

On Saturday we visited the Blackjack Brewtap for the first time. Based just around the corner from one of our favourite breweries, Runaway, it is crazy that we have never been before. Although saying that, the brewtap only opens once a month – but believe me, after this visit I will be keeping the future dates in my diary!

The brewery has a really great space – very open and can hold quite a large amount of people. The weather was chilly but surprisingly sunny on Saturday, so plenty of people were there to take advantage of the great beer and street food from The Ottö-Men.

To get started with our first beers, we needed to buy a token card and rent glasses from the bar. Each token card is worth £10 and the bar staff tick off what you use as you go along. Renting a glass costs £2 and you can choose a pint glass or a 2/3 glass and you get the money back at the end when you return them. I actually felt like this token system added to the experience, as it made us feel like we were at a beer festival.

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Fun times at the Blackjack Brewtap

There was an excellent selection of beers available at the brewtap – a wide range of Blackjack beers of course, but also interesting beers from other breweries such as Wiper and True, West by Three and Gloucester.

I started off with a Blackjack beer that I had tried for the first time a few weeks before – Schapkopf – a lemongrass and ginger wheat beer which is really up my street. My boyfriend started with Congregate by Unity Brewing, a Belgian inspired pale that we had also tried recently as part of our Beer Bods subscription.

Like there usually is at breweries, there was such a friendly feel at the Blackjack Brew tap. We got chatting to a great guy called Ian and bonded over our shared love of beer. We later took him to Runaway Brewery as well, where he hadn’t been before, and exchanged numbers with the plan to have more great beer experiences together in future. We also met a great couple with a passion for beer and running (something my boyfriend and I also share) and planned to meet up in future for a run with a beery reward at the end. That’s one of the best things about visiting breweries instead of usual bars and pubs – you always find yourselves chatting to the most passionate and interesting people!

Other beers I tried that day include the Mango Kettle Sour by West by Three – a brewery from Swansea I’d never heard of before – which was bright orange and definitely tasted like mango. I also had the Bristol Crush by Wiper and True which was a super refreshing Grapefruit Pale Ale. As well as the extensive keg offering, there were also some great cask beers on offer, including the Gloucester Session IPA, which was delicious and flavoursome easy drinking.

If you haven’t been to the Blackjack Brewtap before then I would definitely suggest getting yourself down to the next event. We will definitely be back – hopefully joined by some new friends.

And if you can’t wait until the next one…make sure you visit The Smithfield Market Tavern on Swan Street in the Northern Quarter – Blackjack’s excellent taphouse.

Future dates at the Blackjack Brewtap

May 25th-27th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street.

June 29th-30th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street

July 27th-28th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street

August 24th-26th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street

September 29th-30th, Blackjack Brewtap, 36 Gould Street

 

 

Beer crawl on a sunny Saturday

Last Saturday my boyfriend and I decided to take advantage of the rare glimmer of sunshine and embark on one of our favourite activities – a beer crawl! This felt slightly indulgent for me as I’d already taken my friend on an extensive brewery crawl a few weeks ago (see previous blog), however it was a perfect day for it and loads of our local bars and breweries seemed to have special events on that we didn’t want to miss.

To line our stomachs for an inevitable day of drinking, we stopped off Idle Hands – a coffee shop that we had previously enjoyed during one of their visits to the Grub Food Fair last summer, but has now secured its own premises on Dale Street. It’s a really lovely space – light and spacious, with the most friendly staff. The food menu was great too. I had Turkish Eggs, which was one of the most pretty and delicious brunches I’d had for a while. The coffee was outstanding too. There were two blends available that day and I opted for the San Francisco in an iced latte, which helped to gear me up for the rest of the day.

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The most amazing Turkish eggs

This sunny Saturday was also Record Store Day and although we did plan to peruse a few record stores, we were most excited by the special RSD beer – a collaboration between Cloudwater, Piccadilly Records, Common and Port Street Beer House. We headed over to Common where we purchased two cans, which did not disappoint. A DDH Pale, full of flavour and brewed with Centennial, Enigma and Chinook hops. Delicious.

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Record Store Day DDH Pale

We then walked up to one of our favourite stops on the Manchester brewery strip – Beer Nouveau. We had the place to ourselves for a while, so had a great chat with owner and founder Steve Dunkley, who was as welcoming as ever and let us try lots of different beers, as well as a barley wine. I was fortunate to be able to try Steve’s Peach Bonnet witbier, one of the last bottles left of the batch. I absolutely loved this beer. One of the most interesting things I have tasted for quite some time. Peachy and refreshing to start with and then followed by a subtle kick at the end. Well, the heat of this beer may not be subtle for some, but I do like my spice.

As it started filling up in Beer Nouveau, we moved on to our next stop – Wander Beyond Brewing – who were open for a special event to launch four new beers. The space was really nice and there was a great atmosphere. I decided to have the Illicium Imperial Milkshake IPA, but just a third as it’s very strong at 10%. I’d had the other beers in Wander Beyond’s Milkshake range before and really enjoyed them, so I was intrigued to try this new version. It was so smooth and drinkable – I could have easily had a pint of it but I don’t think I would have been feeling so fresh afterwards. My boyfriend was more sensible and chose the Graviton Session IPA, which had tropical notes but was also quite different to other IPAs. We decided to move on at that point and get some snacks, but I am really looking forward to trying the other two new beers soon.

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Imperial Milkshake IPA and the full menu!

Last but not least we stopped off at our local, The Pilcrow, on our way home. The Pilcrow is one of our favourite pubs in Manchester and definitely the one we frequent the most (it being very local to us). A Burning Sky Brewery Takeover was taking place on Saturday which we were keen to check out. I can’t remember the names of the beers we had unfortunately but we both opted for saisons, which were delightful and perfect for the weather that day. The Pilcrow has regular tap takeovers, but for some reason the timings don’t usually work for us, so it was great to be able to finally get to one and support a brewery that we have been following for a while.

After that we headed home. We still had some treats at home which I’d bought on my last trip to the Cloudwater Barrel Store. We’d been saving a special edition Cloudwater bottle, a collaboration with Coswut, a home-brewer and beer lover (who I’ve since heard, has sadly passed away). A brettanomyces bruxellensis fermented sour (bit of a mouthful) which was fermented in French white wine barrels for 13 months. We really enjoyed this beautiful beer – the kind that should be savoured and drank slowly like a wine. We finished the evening by sharing a can of Cloudwater and Half Acre (from Chicago, Illinois) Triple IPA. We’d already shared a can of this a few weeks before and loved it, although it is very strong so not sure I could handle a whole can to myself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading more about my beer adventures in Manchester. As well as longer reads like this, I’m also planning to start doing some shorter “beer haul” pieces where I share my thoughts on the latest treats I’ve picked up from my local bottle shops and breweries.

Cloudwater Brewery Tour

I started a new job in February and as a farewell present, my colleagues at my old work very kindly booked me tickets for a Cloudwater Brewery Tour. Ah, they know me so well!

Along with the gift, they printed off this article in the Manchester Evening News about Cloudwater being rated as the second best brewery in the world. I had sampled their beers many, many times however I’d never been on the tour, so I was really excited to learn more.

Last Saturday the day finally arrived and we headed over to the Cloudwater Brewery, based at the Piccadilly Trading Estate. I’d been to the actual brewery itself once before as it used to open as a tap room on a Saturday before they opened the Cloudwater Barrel Store on Sheffield Street. I’ve heard that the plan is for the tap room to re-open next door to the brewery quite soon, but I’m not sure exactly when that will happen.

The tour began at 10.45am and we were immediately offered a choice of two IPAs as we arrived. My boyfriend and I both went  for the 2.9% option instead of the alternative, which was pretty strong at 6.5%. Neither of us had eaten any breakfast, choosing a lie in instead – definitely not advisable before going on a brewery tour!

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Breakfast?

One thing that I thought was really good is that everyone on the tour was told that they could help themselves to beer throughout. We didn’t top ourselves up again because we knew there would be more tasters later, but I felt that it helped add to the relaxed atmosphere of the tour.

We were very lucky to be visiting the brewery on a brew day, which we were told rarely happens at the weekend. The reason they were brewing on a Saturday was due to something going wrong during the brew on the Friday, something else we were told happens quite rarely, with only around 1 in every 90 brews going wrong. I am no brewing expert, but I thought this was pretty impressive, especially considering how many different beers the brewery produces.

Cloudwater doesn’t have a core range of beers and instead makes seasonal beers, using ingredients that are readily available. For example, they wouldn’t tend to brew a strawberry beer in the winter and would usually brew darker beers instead. As of last weekend they were on there 425th recipe – not bad in only three years!

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Shot from inside the brewery

The first part of the tour focused on a brief history of Cloudwater, as well as a general overview of the brewing process. We were actually stood inside the main brewery floor during this part, but did have to move eventually so the brewer working hard that day could continue with his work. Like on most other brewery tours I’ve been on, we got the opportunity to try different types of malt used during the brewery process and various different types of hops were also passed round for us to break apart.

It was then time for the best part – the guided tasting! We got to try two different beers: one was a pale ale brewed with mango and the other was an IPA, which if I remember rightly was made with Centennial hops. I really liked both, but the second one was particularly delicious and went down far too easily.

Towards the end of the tour, our guide gave everyone the chance to ask him questions. This was really interesting as it provided the opportunity to understand so much more about the brewery. For instance, although Cloudwater is only three years old, it’s such a well thought of brewery that I had just assumed it’s quite big, however that’s not the case. Although it is growing in notoriety and has increased the size of its team, it is still a relatively small brewery. They don’t export their beer at all at the moment except for special events. I asked our guide if they’d noticed a difference in demand since they were named second best brewery in the world. He told us that this had made some difference, however demand has been growing since early 2016 and that the brewery is now producing five times more beer now than it was then. There was a group of people on our tour who had come all the way from Seattle too, so their reputation is clearly spreading far and wide.

We also learnt more about hops. Apparently it’s not as simple as breweries being able to pick and choose what hops they would like to use each week, but instead they have to take out a “hop contract” which lasts a year. I also found out that Citra hops – the most expensive in the world – cost £28 per kilo! Perhaps I’m being a bit nerdy here, but I found it all fascinating.

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Barrels inside the brewery

The tour was now coming to a close, but the fun wasn’t quite over yet. At the beginning we were all given a token which could be exchanged for a beer of our choice at the Cloudwater Barrel Store, around a 5-10 minute walk away from the main brewery. We made a quick food stop on the way and then headed over. I had the MCR DIPA CITRA BBC which was a bold and tasty choice full of tropical flavours.

I had a brilliant time at the Cloudwater Brewery Tour and would recommend to anyone interested in brewing, enjoys drinking good beer or is looking for something different to do on a visit to Manchester.

 

Manchester Brewery Crawl

I recently took my friend Sara on a crawl around some of the finest breweries Manchester has to offer. I decided that this time we would focus on the main brewery area around the archways just behind Piccadilly station. This meant that unfortunately we missed out on one of my favourite Manchester breweries – Runaway – but I also wanted to make sure we didn’t do too much in one day. Oh well, there’s always next time!

Sara is fairly new to beer. She has always liked it but admits that she doesn’t know much about it and often finds it tricky to know what to order. Before arranging our brewery crawl, we had a good chat about what she does and doesn’t like in a beer and came to the conclusion that she likes dark beers (stouts and porters, as well as dark red ales) and IPAs. She is not so keen on pale ales and beers that are slightly less carbonated.

With all this in mind, we set off. The first stop on our trip was Beer Nouveau on North Western Street, owned and founded by Steve Dunkley, who greeted us as we arrived. Sara decided she wanted a darker beer to begin with and Steve kindly gave her about four different beers to try before she opted for a Chocolate Porter. I chose a Summer Ale which was absolutely delicious and exactly what I was looking for – so light and refreshing. It may have been chucking it down outside, but for a brief moment I felt as though summer could be on its way.

From there we moved on to Alphabet – another small brewery that used to be the home of the Grub food fair before it moved to the Fairfield Social Club. Alphabet has really imaginative artwork and they always seem to be doing something new. I had one of their new beers, amusingly titled “Hey, I Just Met You and This Is Hazy” – a DDH NEIPA. At a staggering 7.3% I was glad I only had a half, but it was hoppy and juicy. Sara went for “Charlie Don’t Surf”, a session IPA (and an old favourite) which was more to her taste.

Alphabet is a really nice space and they still often host street food on a Saturday, so it’s well worth a visit if you get the chance. They have also introduced a loyalty card which I was pleased to take advantage of during our visit.

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A shot of our beers at Alphabet Brewery

The next stop on our tour was Unit 101, which is barely a one minute walk from Alphabet. Operated by Beer Merchants, Unit 101 is a craft beer bar, bottle shop, growler station and events space. I had been a few times before but only ever to peruse their excellent bottled and canned beer selection. It’s a really good place to go in Manchester if you’re after some beers from other parts of the UK. They usually have a good selection from Gypsy Hill Brewery (one of my favourites from when I lived in London) and also Lost and Grounded Brewery from Bristol, as well as many, many more.

I honestly can’t remember what beers we had in Unit 101 (I think the 7.3% IPA I’d just had was starting to hit me) but we were again made very welcome and given the chance to try a few different options before deciding what to have. It’s what I love most about the brewery scene in Manchester (well, breweries in general to be honest) – the people are always so friendly, helpful and passionate about what they do.

An added bonus about Unit 101, which has absolutely nothing to do with the beer, is the fact that they have lots of heaters so it’s lovely and toasty. Something that can’t be said for most breweries (although I guess that’s another part of the charm).

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I wish I could remember the name of the beers we had, but anyway here’s a picture
After warming ourselves up in Unit 101, we headed over to Track on Sheffield Street – a brewery I had heard great things about but actually hadn’t been to yet.

The taproom itself is small and modest, but the beer is incredible. I had the El Capitan – an IPA full of citrus and tropical hops which did not take long to go down because it was so gorgeous. Probably my favourite beer of the day. I can’t remember what Sara had unfortunately (I think I was too busy falling in love with my own beer) but I know she opted for something with a lower ABV than mine which was 5.7%. This was quite difficult to do in Track because their beers do tend to be on the stronger side.

Another thing worth mentioning about Track is that you have to pay a £3 deposit for your glasses. This isn’t an issue at all as you get the money back and you can still use your card – just worth noting in case you order a round without realising and wonder why you’ve paid £14.50 for two 2/3 pints!

Track Brewery makes great beer and it really stood out for me during our crawl. This might be because I’d not been before so it was more exciting, but despite that I would still highly recommend you go and try their beer because it is astonishingly good. I enjoyed it so much I took my boyfriend this weekend, as he hadn’t been before.

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El Capitan IPA, 5.7%

We then moved on to the wonderful Cloudwater Barrel Store – the “official” end of our crawl. Cloudwater is probably my favourite brewery in the world right now, so I feel very lucky living in Manchester and being able to drink their beers so often.

I picked Sara a saison with a low ABV and I had the DIPA Centennial. They were both very nice. We were starting to flag a little by this point so I won’t go in to any more detail about the Barrel Store or Cloudwater, however I will be writing another post about them soon.

We needed some food by this point so decided to hit up the Grub Food Fair at Fairfield Social Club. Grub always has a great selection of food and beer, so make sure you go if you live locally or are ever visiting Manchester of a weekend. We ordered from “What’s My Beef?” – Sara choosing the signature beef burger while I had their vegetarian option. I’ve been a pescetarian all my life and really appreciate how much easier it’s got over the years to find really good alternatives to meat. Nearly every restaurant or street food vendor these days seems to have a good vegetarian option – even those specialising in meat like “What’s My Beef?”.

After a swift half at the Piccadilly Tap right by the station, we headed home.

I really enjoyed introducing my friend to the delights of the Manchester brewery scene and to one of my passions. It took me back to when I first starting trying different beers and made me reflect on how much I’ve learnt since then (although I hope to never stop learning). Manchester is a great beer city – one you should definitely think about exploring more if you haven’t already.