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Monday night saw The Beagle in Chorlton launch its first Meet The Brewer event. As a longtime fan of the Port Street events and an enthusiast of Magic Rock beers it seemed natural to go. However, following last week’s abrupt closure of The Beagle’s kitchen, you can’t help but wonder what’s going on with the place at the moment. So it was with some curiosity that I made the trip down to hear Richard Burhouse, one of the founding brothers behind the brewery, talk about his beers.

First of the night was Curious, Magic Rock’s everyday pale ale. With this one Magic were aiming for a session ale high on hops flavour and aromatics. Drinkability, as well as consistency in product, seemed to be the intention here. Richard likened the fermentation process to producing beer with a ‘hops cafetiere,’ which makes sense considering its lightness. This ale would be perfect cold on a sunny day, but personally I found it a bit lacking in body. Not a bad ale, and certainly it has a time and place, but not one I would order regularly.

Next up was High Wire, which is described as a tribute to American West Coast pale ales. With this beer Richard explained that they were aiming for a pint that worked as a cask beer as well as a keg, with dry hopping giving extra aroma post-fermentation and the cask adding roundness and balancing out the aromatics. The ale itself had a strong citrus aroma with refreshing grapefruit tones.

Two hald pints of Magic Rock brewery's High Wire at The Beagle in Chorlton.

Following this half came a platter of lightly seasoned grilled asparagus with a pot of whipped basil mayonnaise, and at my table we pondered why The Beagle decided to abruptly change its food offering last week. Having been for dinner there on two occasions I felt that the menu was sound in concept. After all, when you have the well-reputed Aumbry’s Lawrence Tottingham as ‘chef-at-large’ you figure that you can’t go too far wrong.

However, I found that while the menu struck just the right balance between contemporary and classic there were some flaws with the food proposition. Prices veered towards the expensive and on one occasion they served my mum raw chicken, embarrassing given that I had raved about the place to her following my first meal there. Whatever the issues (and it should be stated that staff were great in their response at the time) were while munching on those tender asparagus stems, it seemed a shame they couldn’t be resolved.

Onwards and upwards, though. The next half was my favorite and what I like to (try) and make my session Magic Rock pint, Dark Arts: Surreal Stout at 6%. Where to start, I love this beer so much. The finest dark chocolate, dried Christmas fruits, blacker-than-night espresso, silky treacle; all of these are in a glass of Dark Arts. There is a velvet sweetness as you sip, which fades to roasted after-notes.

Following this came Cannonball, a 7% IPA. Richard said that Magic Rock always aims for ultimate drinakbility in their beers, and that is difficult to achieve the higher you take the percentage. So gas was added and Cannonball is served cooler than other IPAs to help keep the drinker’s palate fresh.

Human Cannonball came next. This double IPA doesn’t pull any punches. It’s full of hops, deep, sweet yet bitter, and fragrant with spiced citrus fruit. A great beer, but at 9.2% it has to be handled with care.

Last up was the Inhuman Cannonball, of which only six kegs were made so it felt quite special to get to try it. It was a treat of citrus and sweet malt. For a beer at 11% it’s dangerously drinkable too, so probably a good job that this one was served in thirds.

Magic Rock brewry and Indie Man Beer con posters.

I clocked him before he reached our table gliding serenely, lighter than air, across the polished exposed floorboards.

‘Strumming my pain with his finger…,’ Lauryn Hill purred from the PA system. I stared at his tray, my eyes popping out my skull at the sight of the oreo cookie garnishing the glass. Pathetically grateful and desperate for sugar.

The sweet creamy milk laced with woody chocolate cookies, diffused with flecks of ice: the sugar instantly absorbed, the ice soothing my throbbing head.

‘…and so I came to see and listen for a while.’ sang Lauryn. It was a perfect moment. Serene.  After a slurp I pressed the glass to my temples, one at a time, and prayed the staff wouldn’t judge me.

Despite questioning in a previous post if Manchester’s bar and club scene was becoming a little  samey,  I have to admit I like Trof’s latest offering, Gorilla, on Whitworth Street.

Not sure how I’ll feel about another Black Dog Ballroom, mind. The night before we’d been past it as we stumbled through the Northern Quater on our way to Stevenson Square, a long line of Printworks refugees tailed around the corner.

But Gorilla I like. It’s got a dinner feel to it with these angular aluminium tiles above the bar, and there’s a gin parlour upstairs that, thankfully, is not open at 11am on a Saturday morning, which is when I tend to stumble in, pick something off the breakfast menu and slump on the table waiting for someone to bring me liquids.

Last time, I chose the waffles, bacon and maple syrup, which was possibly a mistake. Kristian went nuts for it, figuring there’s nothing not to like about a dish that contains salty, sweet and bready elements. But I’m someone who likes savoury and pudding to be clearly signposted and the bacon just seemed out of place to me. Good coffee though.

This time round there was no messing about. I was dying and there was no room for error. I plumped for the vegetarian breakfast, knowing that my stomach couldn’t handle a plateful of pork.

I asked for extra veggie black pudding, our server told me that I was making a wise choice. I felt comforted by his assurances.

The Mediterranean vegetables that it came with were glossy with olive oil and herbs de provence. The homemade hash brown, that came separately, was like tasting a hash brown for the first time, as it should be. Pure and good. The egg, perfect and fresh.

And our server had been no false prophet; while the veggie black pudding lacked the depth of its blood-filled counterpart, it was crumbly and unctuous.

I work close by and I’ve popped  in once or twice on my way home. They have a deal going on cocktails and wines between five and eight, but if I’m drinking on a school night it’s because I want something specific and Augustiner Helles comes in at around £4.50, which while not far off the going rate for a decent beverage can still come as a bit of a shock.

I was pretty enthusiastic when the waiter politely asked if we’d enjoyed our meal.  I said it was          amazing and maybe that was a bit much, but it seemed, with the sugary milkshake working on my hangover, that anything was possible now.

I could go into town, watch a film, get out of the city, catch a train to the coast, I could do it all again if I wanted to. It was all there for the taking now that I’d steeled myself with grease and milk.

(I ended up in Bury.)

October in Manchester is festival season and so is one of our favourite months of the year. We have no idea how we’re going to fit in everything we’d like to do, but we’re going to give it our best anyway. No doubt we’ll report back as to our various successes and failures. Let’s take a look:

Thursday 6th October to Sunday 9th October

Grimm Up North

If you have any interest in horror, sci-fi, or fantasy then you’ll want to check out the programme for Grimm Up North, which is filled with a number of potential gems. Chief among them is the premiere of The Wicker Tree, the new offering from Wicker Man director Robin Hardy that may or may not be a follow up to the seventies classic (it depends on who you ask). Also of note: a special preview of Retreat, a tense thriller starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell, and Thandie Newton.

Friday 7th October to Monday 17th October

Manchester Food & Drink Festival

Despite Carlos Tevez’s protestations, Manchester is a great city for food at the best of times, but October is always the highlight of the culinary calendar. On the simplest level, the abundance of food stalls is a joy to behold, and it’s always worth making one or two (or three or four) trips to the festival hub at Albert Square. Beyond that, there are plenty of fantastic little events, from the Whiskey Festival and the Big Indie Wine Fest to Secrets From A Kosher Kitchen at the Jewish Museum. Don’t forget to bring your appetite!

Monday 10th October to Sunday 23rd October

Manchester Literature Festival

A festival that not only celebrates Manchester’s artistic heritage, but for two weeks places the city at the centre of the literary world. A wide range of events – from walks to readings, from interviews to award galas, not to mention some fascinating lectures – ensures that there should be something for everybody. The festival actually stretches into November, with Anthony Horowitz discussing the first official new Sherlock Holmes story since the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jeffrey Eugenides reading from his eagerly awaited new novel. Our pick of the bunch, however, is Literary Reputations: Katherine Mansfield, which will examine the life and career of one of the greatest short story writers of all time.

Friday 14th October to Sunday 16th October

Manchester Weekender

With a remit to bring the best of the city together over the course of three days, Manchester Weekender celebrates cultural diversity whilst placing plenty of emphasis on the arts and crafts scene, with various workshops designed to get the creative juices flowing. The Secret City Arts programme seeks to highlight obscure artists whose greatness deserves wider acknowledgment, and a range of family-friendly events means that everyone can get involved.

Saturday 15th October to Sunday 16th October

A Carefully Planned Festival

Whilst the absence of In The City this year is lamentable, local promoter Carefully Planned has stepped into the breach with a two day festival taking place across four Northern Quarter venues. The line-up is filled with some of Britain’s best and brightest, with plenty of great Manchester bands to discover and one or two surprises to boot. And all for the unbelievably reasonable sum of £10. Don’t delay: get your ticket booked!

Monday 17th October to Sunday 30th October

Manchester Comedy Festival

The country’s comedy scene can be a difficult beast. The leading lights are divisive figures to say the least, and figuring out where to start in terms of the vast number of lesser known comics is the type of conundrum that puts many people off altogether. We usually just end up listening to the same Bill Hicks sets we’ve heard dozens of times. However, this year will be different; this year we’re going to get out there and discover some new favourites. A few shows have already piqued our interest: RIchard Herring: What Is Love?, Lorcan McGrath is a Smart Wrestling Fan, and The One Handed Show: A History of Pornography being among them. Oh, and don’t miss Adam Buxton’s BUG: The Evolution of Music Video. We’ve already got our tickets booked.

Saturday 22nd October to Sunday 30th October

Manchester Science Festival

Public interest in the sciences seems to be undergoing something of a resurgence at the moment, and events such as this deserve a large share of the credit. Since starting back in 2007, Manchester Science Festival has grown and grown, and this year looks set to be its biggest ever. Events fall into various categories: some celebrate the city’s scientific luminaries, whilst some seek to involve laymen such as ourselves in discussions of the grandest concepts imaginable. It’s the Alan Turing events we’re particularly looking forward to; few men have lived more incredible lives than he.

We’re exhausted just thinking about all of the above. Do let us know what you’re looking forward to, though, and if there’s anything we’ve missed that’s worth getting excited for.

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.

As I was sitting at a picnic table in Picadilly Gardens watching a harassed mother and her sulky teenage daughter lock horns over the contentious issue of back to school shoes, it dawned on me what the point of the Manchester Picnic and, by extension, the self-proclaimed “city centre management company” City Co really was.

The event, which lasted from Friday to Sunday, saw food purveyors from across Manchester gather to flog their delicious wares to parents and shoppers, whilst activities in the form of science demonstrations, Printworks DJ sets, and cutesy pirouetting teddy bears kept children and teenagers entertained.

Behind a carefully constructed kitsch facade, accompanied by a well-executed marketing campaign and some humanising website copy, City Co have clearly worked hard to create an event that gives people a reason to come to Manchester and spend their money.

This isn’t a bad thing. People need to spend in order to ensure that everything positive that has been achieved in terms of making Manchester the UK’s real second city is not for naught, now that the country’s economy is well and truly in decline.

City Co seems to be a force for good; Manchester needs people to visit, and City Co provides a platform for businesses and the council to work together to make this happen. And some of their initiatives are really very clever, such as promoting Manchester as a leading photographic destination. This helps gain the city publicity amongst art and media types, after which promotion continues at no cost, courtesy of the images taken by amateurs helping to create strong word of mouth.

The motives for other initiatives are a little more opaque, however. Perhaps I’m being dense or have not quite thought it through, but I cannot see why an organisation that is essentially a PR machine needs to provide a business crime reduction service; surely that is the job of the police, and any information concerning criminality in the city shouldn’t be restricted to “members only.”

Anyway, I digress. Back to the picnic.

Pictured above is an Aumbry’s Bury Black Pudding Scotch Egg served in a sleek black box with homemade ketchup. I salivated as the chief deep fried this golden-crumbed globe of oozing pudding with a quails egg tucked up inside. It’s easy to see why they are described as “legendary” in Prestwich, where Aumbry is based.

Next up was a City Cafe Venison Sausage barm, slathered in Jagermeister Jam with a token bit of salad. Chunky, meaty, and gamey but not overbearingly so, all-in-all it was surprisingly subtle. The Jagermeister Jam was really more of a sauce, but it added a sweet balance and some sharper end notes to the earthy tones of the meat.

The banoffee cupcake pictured next to it is from Dessert Harvey Nichols. Personally, I’m not a massive cupcake fan. The icing is generally overbearing, and they have become something of a twee affectation in recent years. I like homemade ones; it’s mainly the ones that appear in large boxes  as corporate gifts or as an alternative to a wedding cake that I have a problem with.

As for the one above, it was extremely sickly, and might have been more successful had it been either just toffee or just banana. Lurking within the suspiciously light crumb was a centre of flavourless sweet brown gunk standing in for caramel, and adorning the top was a sugary banana icing with, inexplicably, a small chocolate digestive hidden underneath.

That said, Harvey Nichols were kind enough to give us a discount leaflet for their restaurant, and I reckon we’ll make our way over at some point. And we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for more events like this in the future.

The Manchester Picnic certainly worked as an exercise in getting us to spend time and money in the city centre. After we had eaten, we went for a wander around the shops, and I bought some fairy lights from Habitat, which is going out of business.

The guy on the till said he will be given just one week’s notice before him and all of the other staff find themselves out of a job; they aren’t yet sure when this will happen, though. This brings home the importance of events like the Manchester Picnic in terms of drumming up city centre trade.

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

Nipping into the Briton’s Protection for a quick couple a week or so ago, we were confronted with an unusually rawkus bar area, which we were keen to escape for the comfort of the snug. Quickly perusing the on tap selection, the name Beartown caught our eye, so we ordered two pints, bade a hasty retreat, sat ourselves down, and enjoyed our drinks.

Established in 1994, Beartown is perhaps best described as a gateway brewery on the road to more complex offerings. It produces cut-above-average beers that aren’t the most distinctive in the world, with a bottled range that is interesting enough to provide the seasoned drinker with a pleasant night in.

Kodiak Gold in particular fits that mould. It lacks punch, but that shouldn’t always be seen as a criticism, as the mellow end of the spectrum can be fantastic when done right. Very wheaty and ever-so-slightly sweet, it slips down easily enough, and is not as bitter as the label suggests, with notes of citrus and hops shining through.

Bruin’s Ruin also has a certain sweetness to it, due to the hint of toffee that permeates the drink. Copper coloured with a woody aroma, the rich body adds character to what is a tasty enough bitter. Bearskinful, on the other hand, is an absolute treat; whilst trace amounts of honey were detectable in the previous two brews, here it is very much to the fore. Light enough to be drank as a session beer (something which the name cheekily alludes to), and moreish enough that you’ll be happy doing exactly that.

To finish, we chose a Polar Eclipse, which is best described as a beginner’s stout. What that entails is a smooth, mild beverage, with little to distinguish it in terms of flavour. If you haven’t yet explored stouts at any great length, then Polar Eclipse is probably as good a place as any to start.

Overall, these four beers weren’t quite as complex as those we’d usually plump for, but there is still plenty to recommend about them. In particular, Bearskinful is worth seeking out, and as the brewery seems to be gaining ground in both pubs and supermarkets, you may not have to look too hard to find it.

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

Freshly nominated for Best Newcomer and Best Bar in the 2011 Manchester Food & Drink Awards, Port Street Beer House was a favourite of ours before we’d even stepped in. A friend informed us that it was a veritable mecca of beers, and that recommendation proved to be spot on: with a superb selection drawn from the major brewing nations, Port Street has fast established itself as the city’s go to venue for connoisseurs.

That label seems even more apt now that the venue has launched its Meet The Brewer events. For the first of these, Summer Wine Brewery were the guests. Managing director Andy Baker and head brewer James Farran were honest enough to admit that their early efforts could best be described as “accountant’s beers.” Fortunately, they’ve come a long way in a short space of time, and have worked hard to ensure that they stand out in a crowded marketplace – not through attention-grabbing gimmicks, but by fostering a spirit of innovation that is evident in every new release.

Upon arrival we were presented with five raffle tickets, to be exchanged for different drinks over the course of the night. We decided to start with the Valencia Pale Ale, and that proved to be a good decision. Pale ales can sometimes be a little wishy washy, but Summer Wine Brewery have judged this one just right, offering up a distinctive beer with a wonderful citrus aroma that is but a precursor to the taste. A sharp burst of orange and lemon shines through every sip, and a pleasant sweetness pervades.

The Rogue-Hop, pictured above, is arresting before you even taste it, an inviting shade of red with a lovely woody aroma. Like the Valencia Pale Ale, fruit flavours are to the fore, with notes of cherry, blackcurrant, and grape all standing out. It was accompanied by the best pork pie I have ever eaten in my life, courtesy of Wilsons Butchers.

The Saison Nettle & Ginger is the first of four saisons set to be released by Summer Wine Brewery in the near future. These days, ginger has become a particularly fashionable ingredient, yet in this instance it’s used extremely well, as a background flavour rather than as an overly prominent feature, making for a light, refreshing beer ideal for the handful of warm summer days we still have remaining.

The next couple of drinks ramped up proceedings in terms of potency. Diablo IPA is the brewery’s flagship brand, and having tasted it we can understand exactly why Port Street’s proprietors fell in love with it at January’s National Winner Ales Festival. It’s a well-rounded dry ale possessed of just the right amount of bitterness, and wonderfully fresh to boot.

7 C’s of Rye is positively lethal; it’s probably a good thing that tasting occurred in half-pint increments, because any more would’ve likely had us on the floor! However, the punch it packs doesn’t disguise it’s delicious malty, biscuity body.

To finish things off, the Summer Wine Brewery boys recommended Teleporter as the ideal palate cleanser. One of the best dark ales we’ve ever tasted, it’s mellow and subtle, like a Saturday morning coffee that immediately perks you right up, sending us off home in very high spirits.

All in all it was an excellent evening. Summer Wine Brewery stands out as one of the country’s finest brewers, run by two gentlemen who are clearly passionate about their work. We recommend that you make your way to Port Street and sample their beers as soon as possible.

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