Reflections on our Northern Tour

Revitalisation beer pump clip.

Last week’s visit to the north of England (Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield) was actually as near as we’re getting to a holiday this year.

We fig­ured that, even if we did­n’t get chance to plug Brew Bri­tan­nia, we’d at least have fun drink­ing decent beer in great pubs and bars, and see­ing the sights. But, as it hap­pened, we were invit­ed to appear and/or speak at a few venues.


At Port Street Beer House on Sun­day after­noon, we were in com­pe­ti­tion with blaz­ing sun­light which had turned Man­ches­ter into a dead ringer for Barcelona. Nonethe­less, sev­er­al peo­ple turned up to share a beer with us and buy advance copies of the book.

It was great to meet every­one, but we have to admit that we were espe­cial­ly pleased to make the acquain­tance of Len, a read­er who usu­al­ly ‘lurks’, and who set­tled our nerves with a few kind words in the first few min­utes.

We also found our­selves think­ing that some­one – maybe us – ought to write a prop­er por­trait piece about 6TownsMart, whose com­mit­ment to, and first-hand knowl­edge of, Bel­gian beer is awe-inspir­ing. ‘Brew­ers as rock stars’ is a well-worn angle, but ded­i­cat­ed drinkers deserve some atten­tion too.

At North Bar in Leeds on Mon­day, we got to try the Kirk­stall Brew­ery beer Revi­tal­i­sa­tion, thought­ful­ly devel­oped by Matt Lovatt from some vague thoughts we put in an email. We drank lots of it, and it prompt­ed plen­ty of con­ver­sa­tion among the Leeds crafterati, as well as find­ing favour with a few of the locals with more con­ser­v­a­tive tastes. We’ll write more about it in a sub­stan­tial post about Bod­ding­ton’s to fol­low in the next week or so.

We did our best to give a read­ing, but our puny voic­es strug­gled a bit against the non-stop par­ty­ing which char­ac­teris­es the venue. Some­one made us drink tequi­la, and Ghost Drinker plied us with won­der­ful, won­der­ful gueuze. We signed and sold a lot of copies of the book, which saved us lug­ging any back to Man­ches­ter, though the 20 copies of The Grist we acquired were heav­ier and more awk­ward­ly shaped.

We had two engage­ments in Sheffield. First, at the Thorn­bridge-owned Hal­lamshire House, on Wednes­day night. This was the first actu­al ‘talk’ we gave. Forty or so peo­ple, many of them actu­al­ly there for a Ger­man stu­den­t’s birth­day drinks, lis­tened polite­ly as we spoke about the ori­gins of the term ‘craft beer’. Some sidled up with ques­tions, includ­ing, to our delight, the Ger­man birth­day boy, who want­ed to know why porter was so hard to find: “Ah,” he said on hear­ing our off-the-cuff answer. “This is the same as with Dort­mund Export.”

We were delight­ed to meet Jim Har­ri­son, one of the founders of Thorn­bridge – he is a very charm­ing man – but cringed as we watched he and his wife read what we’d writ­ten about them in the book from across the room. They did­n’t take offence, but seemed per­haps a lit­tle hurt that we’d por­trayed them as ‘lord­ly’: “I came on the bus tonight.”

As the crowd thinned, we were joined by Thorn­bridge brew­ers Rob Lovatt and Will Inman, who indulged our naive ques­tions about process­es and yeast, and polite­ly dis­agreed with a cou­ple of our thoughts on Thorn­bridge’s beer. Very civilised.

The cafe next door to the Hop Hideout.

We fin­ished on a real high note with a tick­et­ed talk at the Hop Hide­out on Abbey­dale Road in Sheffield. It is a tiny but lov­ing­ly-man­aged spe­cial­ist beer shop in the cor­ner of a larg­er unit sell­ing vin­tage… stuff, so the talk actu­al­ly took place in the cafe next door. With blinds drawn, it felt like a lock-in or speakeasy, and talk­ing to a crowd who want­ed to be there was a real treat.

Over the course of a cou­ple of hours, we tast­ed:

  • John Smith’s Bit­ter – a ‘palate cleanser’ and reminder of the ‘bad old days’.
  • Chi­may Rouge – the first ‘world beer’ to hit the UK, in 1974.
  • Sier­ra Neva­da Pale Ale – high­ly influ­en­tial on the use of hops in British brew­ing.
  • Mar­ble Dob­ber – the kind of beer British brew­ers made once they’d ‘got’ New World hops, and with a ten­ta­tive con­nec­tion to Bren­dan Dob­bin.
  • Cam­den Hells – exem­pli­fy­ing the post-1990s trend for ‘craft lager’, and explor­ing ques­tions of prove­nance.
  • Wild Beer Co Ninkasi – explor­ing the ‘out­er lim­its’ of diver­si­ty in British beer, and fin­ish­ing on a show­stop­per.

Most peo­ple seemed to agree that Chi­may was cru­el­ly over­looked these days; that SNPA was still a real­ly good beer; that Dob­ber was on fan­tas­ti­cal­ly good form; and that Ninkasi was extreme­ly com­plex and inter­est­ing. Watch­ing some­one smell the Cas­cade aro­ma of SNPA for the first time was a treat, too.

We’ll be in Lon­don in the week com­menc­ing 16 June and will hope­ful­ly be able to announce a pro­gramme of appear­ances in the com­ing days. We’re also at Beer Wolf in Fal­mouth, Corn­wall, on 28 June from 4pm. Come and see us some­where, at some time!

20 thoughts on “Reflections on our Northern Tour”

  1. Look­ing for­ward to the bod­ding­tons arti­cle. Real­ly glad you enjoyed the dob­ber!

  2. Nice report. Was hop­ing for a note or two on Holt’s, Hyde’s or Robin­son’s bit­ter, espe­cial­ly the first two. One would think, or hope, their palate has con­tin­ued on almost unchanged for gen­er­a­tions and might be use­ful to con­trast with to the new­er-style APAs.


    1. We did­n’t have time to con­duct a com­pre­hen­sive sur­vey, Gary, what with speak­ing engage­ments and recov­er­ing from speak­ing engage­ments, but hope­ful­ly you’ll find our post on Bod­ding­ton’s inter­est­ing. We had fun research­ing that.

  3. Okay many thanks and look for­ward to it. Proud to say I drank Bod­ding­ton’s cask in Man­ches­ter about 10 years ago and it was won­der­ful.


    1. I’m proud to say I drank Bod­ding­tons in Man­ches­ter 40 years ago. It was all cask back then, and I’m cer­tain it had far more char­ac­ter and flavour than it did dur­ing its final days under Whit­bread!

      1. True – but Bod­ding­tons man­aged to cock it up all on their own with no help from Whit­bread!

  4. Not sure that Dob­ber has any con­nec­tion at all with Bren­dan Dob­bin, ten­ta­tive or oth­er­wise.

    1. We under­stand that he installed the orig­i­nal brew­ery at Mar­ble and devised the ear­ly recipes.

      We don’t know, but we also assumed he sup­plied their orig­i­nal yeast strain. As we say, ten­ta­tive, but we think it’s fair any­way to use it as an illus­tra­tion of the Dob­bin school of brew­ing, i.e. SNPA-inspired, c.5.9%, ‘New World’ hops. They cer­tain­ly acknowl­edge the influ­ence.

      We did won­der if it was named in his hon­our, but it seems it’s a ref­er­ence to (groan) the biggest mar­ble in the set. (Rob Der­byshire has heard oth­er­wise, how­ev­er.)

      1. Well, he’s heard oth­er­wise from peo­ple on Twit­ter!

        I think it’s fair enough to say there’s a Dob­bin con­nec­tion, though, if only an indi­rect one – he helped the orig­i­nal Mar­ble brew­ers set up, & this is the cur­rent lot’s star beer.

        In reply to Gary: Holt’s bit­ter these days is brown­ish and drink­able – very drink­able; it’s got a dis­tinc­tive flavour but it’s not in-your-face, and IIRC its strength is down at 3.9% or there­abouts. The first time I drank it – 25 years ago or so – I remem­ber it as being dark and almost undrink­ably bit­ter; I was sit­ting in an old pub arm­chair with pol­ished wood arms at the time, and imme­di­ate­ly made the asso­ci­a­tion between the look and taste of the beer & the look and taste of fur­ni­ture pol­ish. I avoid­ed it for the next decade or so, so I don’t know if the change was abrupt or grad­ual, but I think it’s been dialled down a fair bit over the years. As for Hyde’s, I don’t often drink the stan­dard bit­ter, but I think it’s also a brown­ish, low­ish-strength, unassertive bit­ter – quite unlike the yel­low, sour-ish beer I remem­ber drink­ing (quite fre­quent­ly) in the 1980s. Of the three, I’d say Robin­son’s bit­ter has changed the least. (You did­n’t men­tion the fourth local brew­ery, Lees’, but I would­n’t have been able to help you there any­way – until recent­ly they only had a cou­ple of pubs I ever went any­where near, and I nev­er went in those.)

        1. Sor­ry Phil but I real­ly don’t think there’s any real Dob­bin con­nec­tion at all here to be hon­est. So he intsalled the orig­i­nal kit and devised some of the orig­i­nal beers – none of which are now brewed. The kit on which this beer is brewed is not the same one and Bren­dan had no input into this beer’s recipe.

  5. Yes Bren­dan did install the kit and devise some of the beers (the orig­i­nal McKen­na’s Porter was iden­ti­cal to his Yaki­ma Grande Porter). I do how­ev­er think you are stretch­ing the Dob­bin con­nec­tion to break­ing point with this one. And, yes it is named after a big mar­ble regard­less of what any­one else may have heard. I was told this by both Jan Rogers (the Mar­ble own­er) any my mate James Camp­bell (who was head brew­er at the time and who devised the recipe). It was in fact rather enter­tain­ing try­ing the var­i­ous tri­al brews before the final recipe was decid­ed on. You will also note that Mar­ble recog­nise the influ­ence of Tony Allen – one of the real pio­neers and still going strong 32 years lat­er. Did you inter­view him?

    1. We did­n’t inter­view Tony Allen – what’s his par­tic­u­lar claim to fame?

      1. Well, he set up Oak Brew­ery in Ellesmere Port in 1982. He moved this to Hey­wood in 1991 and took the name Phoenix Brew­ery (after the old brew­ery whose premis­es he uses ). He’s been qui­et­ly mak­ing a large range of beers (from hop for­ward gold­en bit­ters to big dark stuff) for years. Link here:
        As I said one of the orig­i­nal pio­neers – not sure if there are many oth­ers from that time still active­ly involved in the indus­try. I think you may have missed a trick here.

  6. Dave Raw­sthorne, HB at Titan­ic, has been round the block a few times- set up Holt, Plant, Deakin in the 80’s mak­ing Holt’s Entire- real­ly hop­py for its time.
    Dob­ber is a Mar­ble orig­i­nal.
    Mr Dob­bin an inspi­ra­tional brew­er with an ency­clopaedic knowl­edge and a remark­able palate.

    1. HI James – yes I’d for­got­ten about Entire. I bet B&B also over­looked the But­ter­knowle beers – also con­te­moraries of the Dob­bin brews and just as hop for­ward (and again using New World hops I think). I have fond mem­o­ries of Con­cil­i­a­tion Ale and High Force.

    1. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, yes – it was a last minute pur­chase – but it did the job. (I.e. tast­ed of next to noth­ing except a faint ‘nas­ti­ness’.) If we do it again, we’ll spec­i­fy the nor­mal ver­sion rather than smooth.

  7. + 1 on a por­trait of ‘6 Towns’ Mart – he’s for­got­ten more about beer than I’ll even know, and to cap it all off, a true gent and love­ly bloke to boot.

  8. Sor­ry I missed you at PSBH, by the way – I had it in my diary, but fam­i­ly com­mit­ments super­vened. We’ll be in Corn­wall in August (briefly), so hope­ful­ly our paths will cross then.

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