pubs real ale

A really soulless pub

Rain Bar is J W Lees flagship Manchester pub. It’s on the canalside in a former umbrella factory, hence the name. (Or is it a reference to Liam Gallagher’s first band?)

You get the impression from online reviews that this is supposed to be a trendy place but it reminded us a bit of a slightly posh Wetherspoon’s. With it’s big glossy printed menus, plasticky polished wood and evident compliance with some kind of corporate service standard manual, it’s a good example of pub with no real character.

It did give us a good opportunity to compare J W Lees Bitter and Best Bitter  The former was was extremely refreshing with a crisp, slightly tart finish; the latter, as you might expect, had more hop character and a bigger, rounder brown malt flavour. Both are good solid brews that we’d happily drink loads of if we lived here.

We’d just drink them somewhere else.

On the subject of character, and while we’re in the area, does anyone know anything about this amazing looking pub building across the road from Rain Bar?

beer festivals beer reviews czech republic Germany real ale

Beer festivals are growing on us

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.

beer reviews pubs real ale

Marble Madness

After reading various people raving about Marble for the last couple of years, a visit to their brewpub was always going to be a top priority for our visit to Manchester.

First up were, pints of, er, Pint and Bitter which we found to be very similar. Both were bitter and grapefruity almost to the point of astringency, but not quite. Differences did emerge after a few more comparative slurps — Bitter was marginally darker in colour and balanced a touch more toward malt than hops. We were very impressed by both.

Lagonda IPA looked similarly yellow at first glance but was sweeter, fuller bodied and noticeably stronger at 5%.

Then something that wasn’t yellow: Stouter Stout, which was profound. Thick, roasty, chocolatey and filling — damn near a perfect specimen.  Trying Chocolate next to it was a little surprising, being silkier but actually less chocolate-like.

We’ve had Ginger before and it was just as good as we remembered. We took the advice of the chaps at Blogobeer and also tried it mixed with Chocolate and it was indeed delicious — not unlike Jamaica Ginger cake. Yum.

The enigmatically named Brew #14 was yet another yellow bitter ale, but this time with a more English hop character, very evident dry-hopping and some pear-drop character.

Dobber, despite being 5.9% and a little heavier and fruitier, was, yes, you’ve guessed it, yellow and hoppy.

As for the pub, it’s a great building and has a real buzz. We ate in the back room and service was a little slow but friendly (had someone failed to turn up for their shift?).

In summary, a good pub, with great beer, but (like Hopback) they could do to make the differences between some of their many yellow beers a little less subtle, or simply ‘consolidate the range’ as a management consultant would say.

beer in fiction / tv

Shameless Fictional Beer

The brilliant Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester has an area put aside for displays about specific communities in the city. When we visited (this weekend — we’ve just got back) it was Wythenshawe’s turn. Because the Channel 4 show Shameless is filmed there, they had a display of costumes and props from the show, including some brilliant fake beer cans.

Anyone fancy a Stelberg Louis or an Ashbury Export?

We’ve written about fictional beer before and we’re not the only ones who are fascinated by this kind of thing.

Lots more on Manchester to follow in the next day or two.


JW Lees, at last

We’ve been wanting to try some or any of Manchester brewery JW Lees’ beers for a while now, but they don’t turn up in London much. This week, I (Bailey…) finally got the chance, taking Tandleman’s recommendation of a trip to the Netherton Hall near Frodsham, Cheshire.

It’s been refurbished in the last month and is now a very classy, very cosy flagship JW Lees pub. There’s a portrait of Mr Lees himself over the fireplace, which is nice. It’s obviously also a with its eye on diners, but not in a way which is likely to be an issue for even the most sensitive gastro-pub hater (there was an uncomfortable looking skinheaded lad who’d been forced into a pair of slacks and a shirt pretending to be a waiter, but that was about it).

The beers on offer were the plainly named Bitter (4.0%) and two seasonals — Autumn Glow (4.2%) and Plum Pudding (4.8%).

Autumn Glow was a nice starter, served with a creamy sparkled head and pleasantly soft around the edges. It was reminiscent of another beer, but the similarity took a few sips to pin down. Fuller’s Jack Frost? Maybe — there was some blackberry flavour there, amongst the crystal malt. But no: with eyes closed and imagination engaged, it could have passed for a very light-coloured German festbier. At any rate, very nice and quite complex.

Plum Pudding was a stunner — very fruity, but not at all sickly. A bit tart, if anything, and reminiscent of Liefmans Framboise. The best and most balanced English fruit beer I’ve ever tried, anyway, and one which Boak is now keen to have a crack at. it would mull nicely, too!

Drinking these in completely the wrong order, it was Bitter to finish. Is it a dull, or was that just the contrast? It got better when the head had was out of the way, starting out as boring Bombardier or Spitfire but finishing more bitter and fruity, like a less in-your-face version of Plum Pudding. But who knows for sure? My tastebuds were shot by this point, and I’d failed to bring the prescribed dry bread, bottled water and spitoon…

Read Tandleman on Plum Pudding here. Oh– and Lees grip glass is very peculiar, like something an alien would drink out of.