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.
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!