At a loose end, we decided to pop to Manchester for the weekend, taking in the National Winter Ales Festival, of which Tandleman was one of the organisers.
After startling him with our unannounced arrival (he made a very effective bouncer) we made our way upstairs to the main hall. Our first impressions were of a relatively young crowd with the kind of male-female mix you’d expect in the real world. The atmosphere was like that of a large, busy, if rather brightly lit pub. Or, with people sat on the floor in groups, was it reminiscent of a music festival? We felt very comfortable and soon completely forgot we were in a wedding banquet hall on an industrial estate in a city we hardly knew.
We headed straight for the German rarities. Uerige Sticke Alt, which we’d been wanting to try for a long time, had the trademark Uerige bitterness, although after such anticipation, it was a little disappointing. Schlenkerla Urbock (or did the label say Eichbock?) (6.5%) was clear and syrupy and, frankly, balanced too much towards sweetness for our taste.
A brief detour to Bohemia next with Bernard Kvasnicove took the idea of unfiltered beer to the extreme: there was a bit of wood in it. It was mellow and, again, sweetish. It wasn’t warm, but it could have got away with being two degrees colder.
Lowenbrau Buttenheim Bock didn’t taste as strong as 6.5%. It was very nicely balanced, clearly a well crafted beer, and far from bland, but we wanted a bit more zing.
We went closer to home for the next round. Broughton 80 Shilling was bland; Acorn Gorlovka Stout astounding. What a contrast. We were sceptical as to how a 5% beer could lay claim to the ‘imperial’ moniker but this beauty did it, through hop bitterness, chocolate intensity and a very heavy, chewy body. It was the stand out beer of the evening.
JW Lees Darkside was really interesting — so fruity and sour that if someone said it had plums or maybe even cherries in, we’d believe them.
Red shield, White Shield’s weaker, blonder, cask-conditioned cousin, could have borne a lote more hop aroma and came off as a bit boring in comparison to, say, Dark Star Hophead or Marble Pint.