Friday, 26 May 2017

#336: Manchester

Christian Bale Ale
Once again, Sober Destrier's PhD work brought her abroad and once again I tagged along. The destination this time was Manchester for a single night, though thankfully early outbound and late inbound flights at Cork mean you can get the best part of two full days for your money. I was half aware that Machester had a wealth of top beer options and thanks to some advice from beery Twitter, I had a lengthy list to cherry pick from.

The first cherry is The Font. This is a studenty bar no more than a stone's throw from Manchester Metropolitan University dealing in craft beer and the burger-nachos type of menu that seems to fuel the local student population. There weren't many of those in when we stopped by early in the afternoon and sunk into a well-worn leather couch. The décor here is thrifty and bohemian and the beer looks good.

I started with Hawkshead's NZ Pale, a 6%-er with a bit more sweat and diacetyl than I'd like harshing my NZ buzz. A big bitterness with a smattering of sweet tutti-frutti forms the main chunk of the beer and there are tropical leanings that get me interested but it's all overshadowed by that spiky, sweaty body. Close, but no cigar.

Upstairs at 47 Thomas Street
Danish outfit Dry and Bitter's Christian Bale Ale followed this. It's a single hopped Mosaic pale ale of 4.4% and was a surprisingly good cleanser, offering clear, pretty and lightly juicy stuff without any of Mosaic's famed oniony hangups. Far easier to drink but a nitpicker might say not as characterful as the NZ Pale. This was all we had time for at Font, but I regretted leaving the place - service here was good and friendly, a theme in Manchester, and there was still plenty of exploration to do at the bar. Still, on we go.

Marble Pint

Much later in the day we find ourselves at 47 Thomas Street, a Marble outlet. Unfortunately we never made it to Marble Arch so this would serve as a surrogate. 
Just the one on the first visit, and it was flagship Pint. I don't know the style, but it's a lovely beer with a gorgeously puffy texture, showing its blond grist and grassy highlights in equal measure. Balanced and silky, it doesn't last long. As lovely as it is, I lament not having the chance to try its clearly native cask version - this one seems made for the ease and smoothness of cask, but the keg is bloody good. This was enjoyed in a totally empty upstairs bar that is bright, clean and attractive, and would have been a bit awkward if not for the once again lovely service.

What I did grab on cask the following evening is Lagonda IPA, and I even managed to enjoy it in the busy downstairs area, even though the poor bar staff had to walk the pint all the way downstairs to serve me. I'm glad she did though; it's bright and well suited to the pump - no bittersweet soup here. Lemon and lime and soft orange, it's all very respectable and balanced, again making for an eminently drinkable and silky pint.
Portent of Usher

I finished up at 47 Thomas Street with Portent of Usher, an imperial stout of 9% with plenty of bitter coffee and chocolate malt forming the first impression. There's a lick of smoke from the roast malt and a finish fo balanced chocolate, caramel and dark fruit elements.
That balance seems to be the theme here; all three of the beers have been very accomplished, polished and flavourful. Sadly, these were the only Marbles I had on the trip but it is safe to say I will return.

In between these two visits to Thomas Street was a stop in the wonderful bottle shop Beermoth for a couple of hotel beers, the first of which was Moor's apparently Star Wars-themed Imperial Entanglement.
Imperial red is the style billed and it gives mild coffee, red berries and bitter husky grain. There's much humming and hawing on my part before I have to conclude that, while interesting, it's just not interesting enough.

Café Beermoth
Much more interesting is Partizan's Royal Ale, brewed with riesling juice, no less. It's pale and yellow-gold and does a super slick dance of pear drops, syrup, light tropical fruits and soft peach. There's even a strand of straight riesling right at the finish, as well as a slightly tart edge.
Rather unusual stuff, but highly enjoyable.

The beery highlight of the trip was a visit to Café Beermoth, a simply stunning place to drink beer.

It's all dark wood and straight edges and right angles and hop bines and old bottles, without any nod towards the flayed-to-death raw industrial chic found in basically every craft beer bar in the world, I guess. There are no neon lights, no backlit taplists; this is a calm and almost serene place to indulge yourself and admire your surroundings comfortably, at leaston the quiet weekday afternoon we called in.

I started on the cask engine with Moor's Hoppiness, which gives happiness. Our booth is immediately filled with the aroma of sweet juicy citrus fruit. At 6% it is far easier to put back than you'd think - slick and smooth and spinning a rolodex of sweet mango, orange and lime without a drop of heat. It's only lightly bitter, just ebnough to balance, but doesn't quite leave the palate tingling afterwards. The only evidence of that 6% is the tiny sticky spot right at the finish, but overall the beer is a delightfully juicy and easy drinking IPA that need to be a mainstay everywhere fresh casks can be sourced.

More Tea Vicar?
We had arrived in from a drizzly Market Street around the corner but by now there was a torrential downpour outside. Admiring this form the cosy, quiet simplicity of the Café, I was called to the bar for some More Tea Vicar?, from Ilkley.

This is 6.2% IPA with, yes, tea, that appears pale and clearish and smells of grist and, yes, tea. There's definiely a strain of refreshing black tea that relegates the hop brightness to a later appearance. When they do show up, they offer a wonderful lemony counterpoint to the tea, making it a gorgeously clean, fruit and refreshing beer that tastes very English indeed. The perfect antidote to a drenched Manchester springtime afternoon.

BA Bible Belt
Feeling the need the steel myself before leaving the place I just had to stick my face in  Barrel-Aged Bible Belt, a 13% imperial stout from Praerie and Evil Twin with cacao, vanilla, chilli and coffee and aged in Heaven Hill barrels.
As you might expect with this sort of meddling and ABV it pours pitch black and headless and pleasantly oozes its dark aromatics. Thankfully, and indeed surprisingly, the beer is incredibly smooth and well integrated, to the point that it actually just tastes like a great big black beer, which is nice. It's rich in chocolate and even richer in vanilla. The coffee is sweeter with next to no bitterness or roast, while the whole thing is sweet without even approaching any sugary feel or cloying. The chilli was absent for me, but I didn't miss it.

Gorgeous stuff, and a fitting closer to my Manchester beering.


Manchester is a wonderfully beautiful, friendly, welcoming, happy, laid-back, diverse, and eminently liveable city. This was the case in April, when I visited, and I know when I return in the future - a return I can't wait for -  it will still be a beautiful, friendly, welcoming, happy, laid-back, diverse and eminently liveable city, regardless of the horrific, cowardly, barbaric and ultimately futile events of  the 22nd of May.