I was recently awaah over the Pennines to see Pixies in Manchester. Not the mischievous sprites from the land of make believe, but a popular beat combo who were playing at the Manchester Apollo. Of course, being a modern band, the gig was to start quite late and so it was necessary to stay overnight in Manchester. And it would have been rude not to have had a beer or two in the 30 hours we were there....
Staying on Portland Street our first two pre gig stops were fairly obvious. About 6 doors up from our accommodation is the Grey Horse. At some point in the last 2 years it seems to have had a bit of a revamp, and now looks rather nice, selling most of the Hydes range including their seasonal beers and output from their new small run "craft" (coughs) brewery, The Beer Studio. It was this we went for, sampling a pint of Venetian Red which uses, among other things, black and concerto malt to create a smooth biscuity flavour. I know some of you may recoil in horror at the idea of black malt but as a first beer on a cold night this was a good start.
A few doors down the Circus looks a thousand times better these days with bare wooden paneling replacing the sea of pictures, and the table service only adds to the atmosphere. They also had two beers on for the first time I can remember. Not that their Tetley was shoddy before, but we decided to try the Robinsons Dizzy Blonde at £3.00 a pint - just so I could be certain I definitely don't like it. Which I don't. Its saying something when I crave Tetley over a guest beer....
A wander to the Joshua Brookes followed via hunting for a cash machine with less than twenty people queuing at it. Arriving at the J.B I anticipated easily solving our cash dilemma by buying some beers on card and getting cash back. The first hurdle I encountered was their minimum limit for card payments was £10.00! Since we were popping in for a swift one before the gig, this presented a slight problem, but I figured a round of stronger beers and keykegs would meet the target. Frustratingly (and simultaneously impressively) the beer was incredibly good value... Gah! To add insult to injury they didn't even do cash back either, even though its the 21st century, and they are quite a modern pub. How perplexing!
Anyway, I can't complain at the beer range which was excellent - we had a pint and two halves of Anarchy Sublime Chaos Breakfast Stout (7.0% at least) at an excellent £2.70 a pint, a pint of Black Edge Treacle Stout at slightly less strong, and a half of Weird Beard Fade to Black on Keykeg. The Fade to Black was not as good chilled as it had been on cask at the Sheffield Tap, but was still a nice drop, and the Sublime Chaos was very much sublime. All we had to do now was get a taxi to the gig.
The gig was fantastic by the way. Afterwards we walked back into town to go for a last one - past an ever increasing range of renowned ale venues that shut before 23.30. I know it was a Thursday but I was quite surprised by this. Luckily, despite their absurd payment policies (there was also a "comedy" broken cash machine to mock us) the Joshua Brookes does at least open until 01.00. So more Sublime Chaos and Treacle Stout was had - after trying a Thornbridge McConnells that actually, honestly, didn't taste of anything but the bitter aftertaste of stout. After midnight the prices appear to go up - but the Sublime Chaos was still at least £1.00 cheaper than in the Sheffield Tap.
Friday saw us up late and failing to go for breakfast in the Paramount so we figured a beer would help bring us round. We opted for halves of the Howard Town Snake Ale in the sumptuous environs of the Briton's Protection. Miss N had never visited so was blown away by the decor but if truth were told we were already thinking about having a big meal. ASAP.
Moving onto Knott Bar and having secured half a Marble Ginger for Miss N and a pint of impeccable Buxton Moor Top for myself, we picked up the menu and quickly decided we were staying for a hearty meal. Excellent beef bourguignon for me and Irish stew for |Miss N really filled a gap and set us up nicely for the day ahead.
We walked up Deansgate next and joined a familiar pub trail, starting in the Gas Lamp. Another first for Miss N, this was an impressive venue in which she had a half of Blackjack Honeytrap Porter on cask and I a half of Arbor Oyster Stout on Keykeg - just because I have a bit of an Arbor fixation at present. The prices in here aren't cheap - it was £4.00 for the two halves and neither is a strong beer, but both were on good form.
Over the Irwell past the museum of ordinary things we visited the Mark Addy to admire the harsh white Winter sunlight setting over the footbridge and making the scene almost monochrome. Beers here were halves of Dunham Massey Cherry Mild and Deeply Vale DV8 stout. Its great to see Dunham on a bar but the Addy was our second most expensive stop (taking Keykeg out of the equation) with two medium strength halves totaling £3.70.
The New Oxford is now at the limits of how far the accomplished beer taster wants to venture along Chapel Street based on dire reports of the health and quality of the Crescent. Luckily, the New Oxford also happens to be very good. From an excellent range of about 12 beers we had halves of Welbeck Henrietta and Red Willow Heartless chocolate stout for Miss N and Foxfield Golden Ale and Mallinsons the Count for me. We then moved onto half a Black Edge Treacle Stout and I had a pint of something else from Red Willow - no doubt it will have been fantastic but alas my notes have let me down regarding its identity. We also got chatting to Jean who was behind the bar when we arrived. She very kindly showed is the way to the bus stop and the buses we should catch to our next destination, and was great company to boot. Before leaving she introduced us to the owners/ managers of the pub who were likewise friendly and extended a warm welcome. Once again, the New Oxford proved a highlight in a Manchester and Salford crawl.
We hopped on the bus for a gold plated trip to Shudehill Interchange and then headed for the recently reopened Lower Turks Head on Shudehill itself. Arriving at 17.30 on a Friday means seats are at a premium but we managed to find a gap and sat down in the heat to enjoy halves of Mouselow Farm Under the Influence, another pricey do at £3.60 for two. I know there has been significant investment in the pub but the Mouselow was the only unusual or micro brewery beer on offer, and I would have been even less happy paying £3.35 upwards for Black Sheep or Landlord.
We headed to the Marble Arch next for some expensive (are you seeing a theme?) food which to be fair was absolutely excellent, and some rather good beer. First round beers were pints of Marble Ginger for Miss N and Dobber for me before I had a further half of delicious Lagonda IPA. Beer prices in here were a little more realistic at just over £3.00 for the stronger beers and they accompanied the beautiful food perfectly..
A penultimate stop (and yet another first time for Miss N) was a visit to the Crown and Kettle. By now the pubs were filling up but we still found space to sit down and had a HDM Joyous Pale for me and a half of Partners working class hero mild for Miss N. The HDM was underwhelming as they often can be, and the Partners insipid - I think it was simply a case of choosing badly rather than a reflection on the pub though.
Our final hurrah was to have been in the Port Street Beer House. We went in with beers in mind and I was rewarded with two halves of Saison - a barrel aged from Buxton, which was enjoyable but not quite what I was after - and an impeccable one from Burning Sky Brewery based at Firle in Sussex, brewed by Mark Tranter ex of Dark Star. Given that the Dark Star saison was one of my beers of 2012 I can't say I was surprised. The only downside was the price - I'm sure the saisons, although hovering around 6% and on needlessly expensive Keykeg, were about £3.00 a half, but to an extent this was mitigated by the fact that we were expecting a bit of a hit and also neither would probably have worked on cask.
In the end we also fitted in a half each at the venerable Jolly Angler on Ducie Street, after we missed our train by 30 seconds and had an hour to wait for the next one. The Hydes Bitter was well below £3.00 a pint and in good nick and this was a pleasing antidote to the crush and costliness of the Port Street.
So an oft expensive but undoubtedly varied trip round Manchester and Salford pubs featured some memorable beers and people at some fantastic venues.Only one beer required replacing and there were some astoundingly good value beers at the Joshua Brookes, cancelling out the rather more "eclectic" pricing strategies at other venues. It was great to be able to show Miss N some of the pubs that I know, since she hadn't been drinking in Manchester or Salford for 20 years, and also to know that there is at least another full day of pubs to come back and visit next time.