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.

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.

“You like beer?”

I used to hate beer. Well, at least I thought I did six years ago before my journey from beer-loather to beer-lover began. Naively, I used to associate beer as something groups of “lads” would drink at festivals – crate after crate of Carling, Fosters and the rest. I believed that all beer tasted the same and that none of it was meant for me.

My journey with beer really began in the summer of 2012 during two city breaks I took with my boyfriend. I was studying in Sheffield at the time and he was down in London, so we decided to take the opportunity to spend some time together.

Our first trip that summer was to Budapest, where we frequented many of the city’s unique ruin pubs. It was in one of these pubs when I went to order my usual white wine and was amazed to be charged more than 1,700 Hungarian Forints (around £5) when my boyfriends pint of beer had cost a mere 140 Forints (40p). As a student at the time, I was envious of how much cheaper it was to drink beer in Hungary, so after some persuasion I decided to give it a try. This reluctance to order a beer seems bizarre to me now, but at the time it felt like a huge deal.

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I don’t think this was the first, but it was one of many enjoyed that holiday

I ordered half a Staropramen and to my surprise, loved it. It wasn’t anything like what I’d come to imagine beer to be. From there I had a Soproni, a Borsodi, a Dreher – as many beers as Hungary could offer. My eyes were opened.

Our next trip that summer was to Berlin – one of my favourite cities. Having so recently discovered the wonderful range of beer on offer, I was excited to sample more in a country renowned for its beer.

Many pilsners and hefeweizens were sampled on that holiday and wheat beer is still one of my favourite styles (even now, six years into my beer journey).

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My first German Hefeweizen

I think its fair to say that since those trips to Budapest and Berlin, my appreciation of beer has grown and grown. It has become a passion and a hobby. I seek out new beers, frequent brewery taprooms and bottle shops, follow updates from my favourite brewers and fellow beer lovers and try and support as many local businesses and events as possible.

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First attempt at brewing in my flat!

I have even started to brew – my boyfriend and I dedicating the spare room in our Manchester flat to our latest attempts. It’s become more than just a dalliance – it’s become a huge interest and part of my life.

Over the last six years, my increasing love of beer has surprised a lot of people. The view that I used to hold that “beer isn’t for me” is still something I feel today, but not from myself directly but from others. I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve heard “You’re drinking a pint?!” or “You like beer?!”.

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Beavertown Brewery, Beaver My Valentine 2016

This is one of the reasons why I have decided to start writing a blog about women and beer. Although I do believe that attitudes are changing and that more and more women are openly enjoying beer and getting the recognition they deserve in the industry, I still think there’s a long way to go.

It’s obviously very early days, but as well as writing more about my own beer journey, I hope that in time I’ll be able to write about other women and their experiences with beer. I’d also love to write about some of the amazing women involved in the brewing industry and how they got to where they are!