Monthly Archives: August 2011

Let’s start with a truth that is by no means universally acknowledged: there are some great songs spread across the four albums Stephen Malkmus released prior to Mirror Traffic.

The first, self-titled solo album is by far the most open, honest record he’s ever been responsible for, with a handful of truly beautiful low-key moments. The lyrics are less wilfully obtuse, with what may well be personal sentiments given room to breathe amongst all the tortured wordplay and literary gymnastics. During the chorus of “Church On White,” for example, Malkmus opines that “all you really wanted/was everything/plus everything/and the truth/I only poured you/half a line,” which still staggers me every time I hear it. “Pink India” and “Trojan Curfew” are less introspective, but still absolutely lush, while “Phantasies” and “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” are enjoyable pop ditties, with the latter particularly suitable for a spot of indie karaoke.

Pig Lib followed, and was another success: occasionally unhinged but mostly restrained, there’s a playfulness that permeates the record. “Vanessa From Queens” is not just a fine song, but damn-near romantic with it; more importantly, the album sees Malkmus’ love of a long, drawn-out jam become more prominent, with “(Do Not Feed The) Oyster” and “Witch Mountain Bridge” hinting at such tendencies before the near-ten-minute “1% of One” plays around with the same structure for the entirety of its running time. This would become important come album number four.

Before that, there was Face The Truth, which lacks an absolutely killer track but is worth the price of admission for the line “you said ‘done is good’/but done well is so much fucking better,” which lights up “Freeze The Saints,” a pleasant indie ballad of the sort Malkmus has become more and more comfortable with since Pavement split. A little all over the place in terms of its musical influences, there’s enough good to counteract the few tracks that don’t shine all that brightly.

Real Emotional Trash feels like an album Malkmus had been wanting to make for years: six tracks break the five-minute barrier and a seventh comes close, and he shows no fear in pushing a simple idea to breaking point (if not beyond). Always likely to be a decisive release, whilst for some it probably signified an ending, for me it was the boldest thing he’d released since Wowee Zowee. It’s not the first record I reach for from his back catalogue, but it suits certain moods perfectly, and really shows off his talent as a guitarist, which is often unfairly overlooked.

Which brings us up to the present day. So far, much of the praise Mirror Traffic has received has focused on how much the material sounds like Pavement. Indeed, ever since the band split in ’99, critics and fans alike have seemingly wanted nothing more than for Malkmus to make the next Pavement record, and to those people it never much mattered whether he did so by putting the band back together, or by returning to that sound with his solo work.

This desire is misplaced for at least a couple of reasons. Firstly, whilst the five Pavement albums all sound decidedly “Pavement,” the music changes significantly from record to record. From the lo-fi slacker rock of “Slanted & Enchanted” to the glorious experimentation of “Wowee Zowee” to the weary folk-infuenced stylings of “Terror Twilight,” each new release felt like a progression (not necessarily in terms of quality, it must be said), and felt different to the work that preceded it. And secondly - as I’ve just spent some time elucidating - Malkmus has released some great material over the last ten years.

With all that in mind, to me Mirror Traffic stands out as Malkmus’ best post-Pavement work. As eclectic as ever, there are both callbacks to all of his previous albums and moments of genuine surprise, which highlight both how innovative he continues to be and how unwilling he is to allow complacency to set in: this is everything you would hope for from a man putting out his tenth record (tenth! And that’s not even counting side projects and guest appearances). Let’s take it track by track.

1. “Tigers”

A tried-and-true Malkmus indie pop song, of the sort that appear at least once on all of his albums (which is definitely a positive, given how good he is at writing them). It’s an interesting choice for the opening track because, more than anything else on the record, it invites the Pavement comparisons that so many critics have been making.

2. “No One (Is As I Are Be)”

One of the most restrained songs on the album, “No One (Is As I Are Be)” is introspective and even a touch sentimental: the kind of track most musicians would feel it necessary to build towards, its appearance so early on is disarming. The delivery of the lyrics is practically spoken word (which has always suited Malkmus), and moments of humour and insight are brilliantly alternated.

3. “Senator”

Typically Malkmus, in that it adheres to the quiet-loud template without rhyme nor reason, complete with breakdowns and build-ups that lead to more wonderful, wonderful noise. Some great lyrics, a false ending, a refrain of “you are fading fast,” and a glorious guitar solo outro: this is grade A indie rock, and probably the highpoint of the album.

4. “Brain Gallop”

A loose practise room jam that fleetingly calls to mind “The Hexx,” and is otherwise pitched somewhere between Wowee Zowee and Real Emotional Trash. That said, the “there’s not much left inside my tank today” refrain is unlike anything else in Malkmus’ oeuvre, and immediately stands out because of that. Once the ending kicks in, the guitar squall returns the listener to more familiar territory.

5. “Jumblegloss”

A short, dreamy, Terror Twilight-esque instrumental that breaks up the album nicely.

6. “Asking Price”

Switching gears several times, “Asking Price” has plenty to like about it, particularly the vocal-heavy verses, which call to mind “Transport Is Arranged” and allow Malkmus to showcase his voice at its best.

7. “Stick Figures In Love”

The guitar line that kicks off “Stick Figures In Love” is immediately arresting, and forms the entirety of the chorus, which is completely devoid of lyrics (a trick he repeats elsewhere on the album). The song is as about as musically upbeat as the record gets, and injects a much-needed bit of energy after several slower jams.

8. “Spazz”

The midpoint of the album, whilst “Spazz” is not quite as wild as its name suggests, it is another guitar heavy track. It starts off at a rampant pace, quickly morphs into jam band territory, and then ends where it began.

9. “Long Hard Book”

If the first half of the album was punctuated by songs that evoke Malkmus’ past glories (without ever directly imitating them), the second half showcases how adept he is at introducing new influences to his music. “Long Hard Book” is pretty from the offset, sounding like part two of “Jumblegloss,” with the same sense of dreaminess.

10. “Share The Red”

Perfectly restrained and ambiguously introspective, “Share The Red” could easily have slotted alongside “Old To Begin” and “Type Slowly” on Brighten The Corners. The subtle guitar work showcases Malkmus’ range, and the piano melody that mimics it – bringing the song to a close – is wonderful.

11. “Tune Grief”

Practically surf rock, “Tune Grief” is a couple of minutes of seemingly simple fun that benefits from multiple listens.

12. “Forever 28″

Ditto “Forever 28,” which boasts more great guitar work, the best drumming to be found on the album, and a fabulous ending. The sort of hidden gem that only stands out once you’ve listened to a record from cover to cover several times.

13. “All Over Gently”

Vaguely countrified guitar twangs underpin the start of “All Over Gently,” before gentle vocal harmonies build towards a chorus that, interestingly enough, never arrives. Instead, the song lurches in a number of different directions before ending in mock-collapse.

14. “Fall Away”

One of the standout tracks, “Fall Away” is a lovely little song that is carried along by gentle drums, slight guitar, and some excellent vocals. The only cause for complaint is, that at just over two minutes long, it ends far too soon.

15. “Gorgeous Georgie”

“Gorgeous Georgie” is an appropriate way to bring an end to proceedings, in that it incorporates elements of all of Malkmus’ previous solo records. The lyrics recall “Craw Song,” and the music is more Stephen Malkmus than anything else on the album.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Mirror Traffic: a superlative record that is well worth your time, and further proof that Stephen Malkmus doesn’t need Pavement to make great music.

Monday 29th August

The Centre Cannot Hold: ZIne Launch Party at the Deaf Institute

Several talented individuals have worked hard to ensure that Manchester is a hotbed of zine-based activity, with a number of wonderful titles available. This particular event launches The Centre Cannot Hold, a collection of some of this year’s best writing from the city’s pop critics.

Tuesday 30th August to Thursday 1st September

Last Year In Marienbad at the Cornerhouse

Playing at the Cornerhouse for a limited period – 50 years after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, winning the Golden Lion in the process – Last Year in Marienbad is an arthouse cinema classic. A man named X insists to a woman named A that they met one year earlier, and is convinced that she is waiting for him; she begs to differ.

Tuesday 30th August

Comet Gain at the Roadhouse

In Howl of the Lonely Crowd Comet Gain have released one of this year’s best albums, deservedly raising their profile in the process. That support comes from local favourites Help Stamp Out Loneliness and the ABC Club is the sort of added bonus that means we cannot wait for this gig.

Wednesday 31st August

Gordon Gano & The Ryans at the Ruby Lounge

Gordon Gano hasn’t exactly been prolific since the Violent Femmes came to an end, but his legacy with said band marks him out as one of the most important figures of the post-punk landscape. Support comes from Manchester power pop outfit the Sun Electric Band.

Friday 2nd September

Poets Get Mashed at An Outlet

A poetry-centric open mic night where anyone is welcome to read out their own work and a poem written by somebody else. An important part of Manchester’s thriving poetry scene, this is an opportunity to see as-yet unheralded writers in their natural environment.

Iceage at Islington Mill

Danish punks evoking the spirit of ’76, Iceage make the sort of rawkus noise that is always best observed in a live venue: expect literal blood, sweat, and tears. Support comes from Eagulls, whose brand of post-hardcore is also generating a fair amount of buzz.

Sunday 4th September

Dark Matters at Whitworth Art Gallery

An exploration of the impact new inventions have had on visual culture, the Dark Matters exhibition opens at the Whitworth on Sunday. New commissions focusing on darkness and shadows, populated by spirits, spectres, and phantoms, will be displayed alongside works by Francis Bacon and JMW Turner.

Since we finally got the internet in our flat, after six months of creating a wi-fi hotspot through Sam’s phone (it was so, so slow), we’ve actually been able to stream music. Here are twelve of our favorite tracks from the last few weeks. We thought we’d share them with you.

Click on the links and you can listen to them on SoundCloud. Enjoy!

1. WU LYF – “Dirt”

2. Male Bonding – “Tame the Sun”

3Neon Indian – “Polish Girl” 

4. Speculator – “Jenny Says”

5. CANT – “Believe”

6. Sampha – “Indecision”

7. Girls – “Honey Bunny”

8. tUnE-yArDs – “Gangsta” (Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock Remix)

9. Okkervil River – “Your Past Life as a  Blast”

10. How to Dress Well – “Radioactive” (Marina and the Diamonds Cover)

11. The Weeknd – “Lonely Star”

12. Lana Del Ray – “Video Games”

Have you been listening to anything really good recently? We both love discovering new music, so let us know.

… and two friends.

These are a few images that I’ve taken in and around Manchester (and one in Spain). They were all taken with a Fuji Pix S2950 that I got for my birthday back in March. It’s a bridge camera (somewhere between an SLR and an automatic); you can change various settings like aperture and depth and so on, but for the most part the camera does all the work.

Anyway, here are some photos that tumbled off the memory card the last time I plugged it into my computer.

The image above was taken on a walk near Bolton. I’m not sure how it happened but I got a watery, spotty effect on the image that I really liked.

These jellyfish live in an aquarium in Barcelona. They’re lovely and glowy and floaty, aren’t they?

This image is from a book that was part of an exhibit at the MMU degree shows this year. I love the aesthetic of old textbooks with their hand-drawn, cross-hatched illustrations and quaint typography.

I snapped this caravan on a patch of grass near the red bricks in Hulme. The idea that someone might decide to take a holiday here – and then have their caravan vandalised – amused me.

This was taken on another walk somewhere near Mottram. The composition here came out quite well and there was something old-fashioned about the image, which I decided to play up when I edited it.

An ongoing series documenting our search for the best beers available in Manchester.

If the fact that Thornbridge Brewery started their day’s work at half four in the morning is not proof enough of how committed they are to their craft, then the drinks they brought with them to Port Street Beer House’s latest Meet the Brewer event settled the issue decisively. Thornbridge used the evening as a showcase for new and exclusive brews, each of which suggested that their future will be particularly bright.

First drink Summer Ale is aptly named, being as it is a lighter-than-air lager-type effort that is suffused with fresh-picked sage and, more noticeably, ginger: the kind of drink that is perfect for wiling away the remaining hours of summer, in other words, and a perfect start to the night. It calls to mind Marble Brewery’s Ginger, and round these parts that is a massive compliment.

A striking-yet-pleasing fizz is the first thing you notice upon tasting Kipling, at which point it becomes clear that the brewery isn’t quite as hostile to the mainstream as some of their peers. The difference is, of course, that the big name brands deliver all fizz and no flavour, whilst Thornbridge’s brews have the right level of complexity about them. Kipling is a well-rounded, full-bodied beer that starts with an initial sweetness and finishes with a sharp bitterness, and like Summer Ale, is highly drinkable.

The third beer only serves to push our opinion even higher. The sweetest drink of the night, Seaforth is also something of a challenge, in the best possible way. Subtle notes of citrus, the slightest hint of toffee, an abundance of English hops, and an exceptional maltiness all compete for your attention, before eventually setting down and sitting wonderfully on the palate. Inspiring equal amounts of debate and enjoyment, for us Seaforth is the highlight of the evening.

Alchemy 8VI, a dry hop barley wine, is a fantastic way to bring the evening to a close, providing a deep, intense flavour with no small amount of kick that goes down an absolute treat. For the uninitiated, barley wines really do taste like a cross between beer and wine (which takes a little time to get used to!). In this case, once you’re acclimatised notes of toffee and caramel are to the fore, along with a distinctive woodiness and a pleasing dryness that rounds off each sip.

Once the drinks have been consumed, the delicious Bakewell tart has been polished off, and the money has run out, it is unfortunately time to leave. But we’ll be back, and if you weren’t lucky enough to be there, you should make every effort to visit Port Street whilst Thornbridge’s brews are still the main event. You won’t be disappointed.

Chicken Liver Pate serve with caramelised onions and watercress; and Beetroot Cured Salmon. Both served with toast.

At Onward, Manchester we don’t discriminate. Mexican, Thai, Indian; we love ‘em all. But there is something particularly satisfying about rich, decadent British cuisine that offers a nod to the England of yesteryear, the nation of Mrs Beeton and roasted game, and of spiced puddings and gravy. This type of cuisine has really returned to the limelight over the last ten years, and gets us very excited indeed.

We picked the Mark Addy for a celebratory meal a few nights ago. As  a mainstay of the Manchester food and drink scene for the last thirty years, it is an establishment my parents – who lived in Eccles for several years before hopping over the Pennines to Leeds – have fond memories of, and somewhere I consumed many a cheese and pate board during my penny-pinching student days.

On our latest visit we found that the menu has been expanded to include a host of gastronomic delights, including rumps of lamb, pressed tongues, and buttered bucklings. The  are a few places in Manchester that specialize in this particular brand of sumptuous Englishness: Sam’s and Tom’s Chop Houses quickly spring to mind for their Victorian menus, which are heavy and oozing with cream. Delicious food, but they can leave the dinner with a feeling that they’ve overindulged.

The Mark Addy’s menu takes a slightly lighter approach, suffused throughout with the imagination and traditional leanings of it head chief Mr Robert Owen Brown. Pictured above is the beetroot cured salmon, which came served on a black ceramic tile, accompanied by thickly sliced dry brown toast dribbled with pungent creamy horseradish. The visual drama of the tilted tile, scattered with maroon flesh, taken with the white bread, and cut through on the palate with the heat from the horseradish put me in mind of a deconstructed English sushi.

Wood Pigeon with RS Ireland Black Pudding and Claret

The mildly gamey pigeon came served rare with black pudding from Ireland sitting snugly on top of a velvety fondant potato. The Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas was a delightful example of the dish, and a Smoked Pork Fillet served with Bacon came with a lovely light sherry cream.

The vegertarian in our group was satisfied with Braised Wild Mushrooms with Pennyroyal and Vegetarian Black Pudding, which came to the table encased in a very large onion. The flavors lived up to the theatre of the dish; however, the vegetarian options on this menu are not extensive, and this was the only main on the staple menu not to include meat.

To finish: Sarsaparilla, Yorkshire Parkin, and Rum Raisin Ice Cream and Chocolate and Ginger Cheesecake. Every bit as good as they look.

The unexpected delight of the food at the Mark Addy was that it felt indulgently rich, with a touch of old world charm, yet none of the courses were so dense as to give you that ‘fit to burst’ feeling five minutes after you finish. Which was fortunate, as it meant we still had room to finish with the imaginative and deliciously executed desserts pictured above!

Monday 22nd August to Sunday 28th August

Retracing Salford: A-Z of Lost Salford Steets at the People’s History Museum

An exhibition documenting the so-called “slums” of Salford, the terraced streets of Broughton and Ordsall that were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s, disrupting the family and social lives of scores of people as a result. Retracing Salford aims to shed new light on the lives of those who were residents of the areas.

War Correspondent: Reporting Under Fire Since 1914 at Imperial War Museum North

As relevant as ever, the role of the war correspondent is endlessly fascinating, and such individuals should be celebrating: this exhibition does exactly that, starting from World War I right up to the modern day, focusing on the stories of those brave enough to bring us some of the most important news coverage of the last 100 years.

Monday 22nd August

Meet the Brewer with Thornbridge at Port Street Beer House

Branching out into brewery events has added another dimension to what was already our favourite watering hole in Manchester, and the visit of Thornbridge – who will be bringing some exclusive beers with them – is one to look forward to. We’re most excited about Geminus, an 8.5% double IPA.

Wye Oak at the Ruby Lounge

Proponents of a wonderful brand of indie-folk-rock, now is as good a time as any to see Wye Oak – their newest album, Civilian, has earned them more buzz than ever before, and with good reason: it’s a big step forward for the band. Support comes from local favourites Air Cav and The Steals.

Tuesday 23rd August to Sunday 28th August

Hi High Rise at Manchester Art Gallery

Wherever you might be in Manchester at any given time, it’s likely you won’t have to look far to be reminded of the troubled legacy of high rise apartment buildings. Hi High Rise is a short film about Hornchurch Court – one of Hulme’s last surviving tower blocks – and, more importantly, the people who live there.

Tuesday 23rd August

Sebadoh at Manchester Academy 3

One of the finest American indie bands of all time, Sebadoh’s legacy spans multiple albums and any number of truly amazing songs: it also happens that, when they’re on form, they’re absolutely fantastic live. They’ve done great things in this venue before, and could easily provide one of the standout nights of the week.

Thursday 25th August to Sunday 28th August

The Skin I Live In at the Cornerhouse

A new Pedro Almodovar film is always something to get excited about, and the high concept of The Skin I Live In – plastic surgeon obsessed with perfection -means that, on paper at least, it’s his most interesting film in years. Antonio Banderas has done great work for the director in the past, and the mash-up of horror and thriller elements should be a winner.

Friday 26th August to Sunday 28th August

Manchester Pride Weekend at various locations

It’s the time of year when Pride Weekend takes over Manchester and, as you’d expect, there’s an incredibly broad range of events taking place. From fringe music/theatre/comedy, to the four-day Big Weekend party, to the actual parade, there’s something to pique the interests of everybody.

Friday 26th August

Belle Vue Vinyl Night at An Outlet

We discussed Belle Vue in a recent post, and found it to be filled with some excellent articles and features: unfortunately, this event is serving as a goodbye, as the founding members are heading to different ends of the globe. Why not start your weekend by saying farewell and dancing to an eclectic mix of musical genres? And be sure to pick up an issue or two of the fanzine, if any are still available.

If you’re anything like us, you’re always on the lookout for events that are in some way outside of the ordinary. Which is why, as soon as it was announced, Hey! After Hours was something we were looking forward to. Designed as a response to Projections: Works from The Artangel Collection, Hey! Manchester and Whitworth Art Gallery clearly put a lot of thought into the composition of the night’s proceedings. The result was an illuminating evening, very much of the “once in a lifetime” ilk.

Upon arrival, the Royal Northern College of Music’s Prism Quartet were spread throughout the building, with each individual performing seemingly disparate pieces that, once you reach certain points, come together to form a highly impressive whole. As far as classical music is concerned, it is always the string section that sets our pulses racing, and the Phillip Glass pieces Prism Quartet perform are particularly impressive examples of the art form. Sometimes taut and dramatic, sometimes quiet and restrained, the players provide the perfect backdrop for the evening.

As far as the Artangel pieces are concerned, Atom Egoyan’s Steenbeckett immediately stands out. 2000 feet of film is spread around a darkened room, constantly in motion, and the sound it makes is somewhere between rainfall and the quiet nighttime hum of a refrigerator; the overall effect is mesmerising. The technology-obsessed drawings and paitings of Tony Oursler capture our attention, and Catherine Yass’s High Wires – through which the artist explored the practically dystopian 20th century phenomenon of thirty-storey blocks of flats being envisaged as the future of housing provision – is also striking, with four large screens being used to depict high wire walker Didier Pasquette’s ultimately failed journey between two wind-beaten towers. It’s definitely worth making a special journey to the Whitworth to check out this exhibit.

In the midst of this setting, the ambient soundscapes of Jason Singh are quietly haunting, the sort of music that inhabits your headspace if you give it half a chance. It takes you over, takes you out of the room, and evokes moments or memories rescued from forgotten dreams: soundtrack music of the best possible kind.

Liz Green, pictured above, starts her set with just her bluesy holler and handclaps, although this introduction is something of a misnomer, as once she picks up her guitar it’s the folk influence that shines through most brightly. She seems comfortable playing in front of a room filled with fans and soon-to-be-devotees, cracking a Tom Waits-themed joke and introducing one song as “Homer’s Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope.” Her music suits the environment down to the ground, and it is quickly clear that her debut album – due out this November – is one to look forward to. If Green is able to live up to all her promise, it’ll be one to cherish, too.

We came away thoroughly satisfied with everything we’d seen, and that sensation hasn’t worn off yet. If only all art and entertainment were this affecting.

To some the Cornerhouse bookshop may seem an intimidating place. Making a choice from amongst all the sparkling items can seem like a multiple choice test. Well, to me at least.

And whatever you do, do not lean on the magazine racks. They will fall down.

But for all its sheen and wobbly fixtures it’s a fantastic little shop (and indeed, a fantastic venue), and as the good folk of Belle Vue point out in issue #4, once the Cornernhouse has relocated it needs to be used, or else we’ll lose it.

So, without further ado here are the purchases I made on my last visit, with a little discussion as to why I liked them, and why you might like them too:

Fire & Knives: A quarterly magazine on the topic of food

One for your library rather than your kitchen shelf. Edited by Tim Hayward, Fire & Knives comprises some of the best writing on the topic of food to be found anywhere. This month brought together features on the lost course of ‘savories’ by Tom Parker Bowles, A Scotch Egg Manifesto by David J. Constable, and the curry confessions of Mel Fenson. The publication is printed on thick A5 card, and each article is rendered onto the page using flavescent tones and unique illustration.

Fire & Knives is an absolute feast. Each article is like a delectable word-truffle, consumed though your eyes, digested in your mind, and nourishing to your relationship with everything edible. At £9.50 an issue, it is a bit dear, but quality journalism is worth paying for, and the ticket price covers the publication costs rather than making anyone a profit.

Belle Vue #4: A Manchester-centric zine

I cannot claim to be down with the kids and to have known about Belle Vue for sometime. In fact, almost as soon as I discovered this zine I found out it was to cease publication for a little while, as two of the founders are upping sticks, heading to New York and Australia respectively. This is a shame, not least because I’ll only be able to get my hands on one back issue (#2) when I go to their vinyl night at An Outlet on the 26th August.

Try if you can to get hold of issue #4, as it contains possibly one of the best profiles I have ever read (of architect Norman Foster written by Phil Griffin, since you ask). The introduction and framing device used is expertly deployed with a lightness of touch. I came to the end of the piece surprised I’d taken so much enjoyment from the profile of a man whose area of expertise I know very little about.

Other highlights include a discussion of Manchester’s relationship with Fallowfield, and a funny article drawn from a presumptuous “fifty books you must read before you die” display in Deansgate Waterstones. At £2 this zine is a bargain.

Mistress Quickly’s Bed #1: A literature zine

Named for the inn keeper of Shakespeare’s Henry IV parts one and two, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, Mistress Quickly’s Bed compiles poems and short stories from new and established writers. A particular highlight was Fred Voss’s poem Dropping the Needle of the Blues and S.Kadison’s short story, Demobbed.

Not being as adept at literary criticism as I would like, I chose this zine hoping to remedy this to some extent. I enjoyed Quickly’s on the first read, and find myself returning to its blue covered pages when opportunity presents itself on buses and lunch hours. Also priced at £3.50, for an enthusiast of the written word it is a good investment, and an introduction to an area of writing I’d like to become more familiar with.

An ongoing series documenting our search for the best beers available in Manchester.

Given the stigma attached to the likes of Carlsberg Special Brew and Tennent’s Super – extra-strength beers that are less about enjoying a nice cold one than about inducing unconsciousness - it’s somewhat surprising that in recent years, stronger ales have been growing in popularity among aficionados. BrewDog have arguably been at the forefront of this, offering a number of beers that either push or exceed 10% ABV, including the ridiculous-for-more-than-just-its-reductive-name Sink the Bismarck!, which clocks in at a staggering 41%. Still, however you feel about their attention-grabbing antics, this approach has helped the brewery achieve nationwide recognition in a comparatively short space of time, whilst introducing a significant number of drinkers to the joys of higher percentages.

Of course, this isn’t an entirely new development. Dating back to at least the middle of the 20th century, the word “tripel” has been used as a banner term to indicate strength. Brakspear’s Triple represented our first foray into this arena, and we’re happy to report back that it was a complete success. Upon pouring, the colouring immediately catches your eye, as dark clouds swirl around the top of the glass before settling. The depth of flavour is initially disarming, and this intensity takes a few sips to get used to. Once your palate has adjusted, however, you’ll start to appreciate the wonderful complexity of this drink, and its balanced notes of toffee and fruit.

Later on in the week, a brief stop off at Port Street Beer House was as fruitful as it always is. Augustiner Helles is one of the only lagers we drink these days, with good reason. Sometimes you crave nothing more than a clean, crisp, refreshing beverage, and Augustiner’s flagship brand more than delivers on all of these fronts. We spent a fair amount of time in Berlin last year, during which we proved that it is pretty much the perfect session beer. Its increasing prevalence in Manchester is something to be grateful for.

We were also happy to partake in a Summer Wine Brewery offering that was new to us. The pump clip for The Benz promises an aromatic black, and the drink certainly delivers that. Blessed with a wonderfully deep black colour, it’s the kind of beer that lights up the senses before the first drop has hit your mouth. The taste is pitched somewhere between a stout and a porter, with hops very much to the fore, which the fruity malts complement perfectly. Another unqualified success from Summer Wine!

To round the week off, we opted for Hook Norton Brewery’s Old Hooky. A golden brown colour gives way to a deep, woody taste that dominates the beverage, lingering on the tongue to a far greater extent that the subtle hint of fruit. Slightly more complex than your average beer, it’s light enough that it goes down easily, but certainly isn’t for session drinking. Definitely one to add to the hypothetical beer cellar.


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