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.

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

 

 

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.