A tale of two Alberts in Manchester

On a recent trip to Manchester we didn’t plan our drinking beforehand and encountered two contrasting Alberts.

First, we were in the city centre visiting a recommended ramen restaurant, and then Googled to see what else was nearby. Albert’s Schloss came up and we recalled that we’d read about it as an outlet for unfiltered Pilsner Urquell.

We’d also heard that it was a bit of a party pub – the kind of place where people go out-out. The website for the chain (Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham) bears this out: “Welcome to the weird, the wild and the wunderment of live performance, musik and kabaret…”

As it was a damp weekday afternoon, however, we figured we’d probably be fairly safe from that crowd, and this was indeed the case.

We entered a huge beer hall that was perhaps around 10% occupied when we arrived and perhaps 60% full when we left a couple of hours later.

It’s a really interesting space. We would say it was pretty convincing as a Bavarian-style beer hall. Which is to say, it doesn’t feel as if you’re actually in Bavaria, but does resemble those Bavarian outposts you get in German cities up north.

There’s been no expense spared in decking the place out with wooden panelling, hefty benches, and fancy light fittings. Though that is all slightly undercut by the (deliberately humorous?) cod-German signs everywhere. “Das Toilets” made us wince.

It’s table service, which you attract by pressing a button marked “Ring for Prosecco”. Being excessively literal, and not in the mood for sparkling wine, we didn’t touch it. Instead, we just waved at a passing waiter.

There’s a choice of mostly German and Austrian beers on tap, such as Paulaner, Hofbräu and Stiegl. And of course, the unfiltered Pilsner Urquell from Czechia, which we drank and drank until we felt distinctly silly.

It’s so strange to think of this extremely characterful, sulphurous beer as the flagship drink for this particular venue, but there you go. We’re not complaining.

We were told by our friends (who had never been in) that it mostly had a reputation for stag and hen dos, but on a Thursday afternoon, the venue really did feel like somewhere in Germany: calm, family-friendly, rustic.

Towards the end, it began to warm up for the evening with a keyboard and vocal due appearing on stage, and a serious-looking sound mixer emerging from a hidden cupboard. As the vibe began to shift, we drifted out into the drizzle.

A pint of cask ale on a wooden table with a bowling green visible through the window behind. The surrounding decor is tasteful with grey walls and pot plants.

Not a million miles away

The friends we were visiting have lived in various locations between Manchester and Stockport and have been keen to take us to the Albert Club in Didsbury for a while. They discovered it because a relative worked behind the bar there.

It’s a combined tennis, bowling and social club founded in 1874 “for the wealthy merchants, industrialists, and professionals of late-Victorian Manchester, especially those based in West Didsbury, Didsbury and Withington”.

Based on the dates we assume that, like Albert’s Schloss, it is named after Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who died in 1861.

Set back from a suburban side street, The Albert Club has a large clubhouse with tennis courts on one side and a bowling green on the other.

Non-members are welcome, or at least not discouraged, though only members get discounted drinks. The door to the pool room does say “Members only”, though – perhaps to prevent rowdy strangers tearing up the precious baize.

The atmosphere was quite different to other social clubs we’ve visited. There were lots of cushions, acres of tasteful grey paint, and plenty of tanned, well-to-do customers with designer labels on their smart casual clothes.

On the bar were standard lagers, several keg craft beers, and four cask ale hand-pumps. We tried something from a local brewery and it was acceptable, mostly because the condition was so good. But the better options were bigger-brewery beers. We stuck on St Austell Proper Job for the rest of the session.

The beer garden was peaceful and leafy – a summer place. The only incident that disturbed the air of comfortable complacency was when a child hoofed a football onto a table covered with empty glasses. Nobody blinked at the sound of breaking glass.

Belgium News

News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 August 2016: Ribbeltje, Gasholders and Serebryanka

Here’s all the writing about beer, pubs, beer glasses and gasholders that’s caught our eye in the last week.

Barm (@robsterowski) breaks the oddly sad news that the company behind Stella Artois is to cease serving its premium lager in so-called ribbeltje glasses in its native Belgium, going over instead to the fancier chalice design:

As is widely known, despite the brewer’s attempt to punt it in other countries as a ‘reassuringly expensive’ premium beer, in Belgium Stella is the bog standard café beer, with a basic, proletarian glass to match. This, of course, is precisely why the marketers hate the glass so much. It’s not chic enough for their pretensions.

Dandelion saison in the glass.
SOURCE: Ales of the Riverwards

With a cameo appearance from just such a glass, Ed Coffey at Ales of the Riverwards has been reflecting on foraged ingredients and his idea for dandelion saison is simple and, we think, rather brilliant.

beer and food

Beer and cheese


We’ve resolved to hold a beer and cheese tasting for our friends this year, so we thought we’d do a trial run.  Several trial runs in fact, to work out what really works, without relying solely on perceived wisdom and the experience of others.

We did consult a few references, though. As well as Garrett Oliver’s book The Brewmaster’s Table which inspired us in the first place, we also read interesting articles by Fiona Beckett (here), Pete Brown and commentators (here) and New Zealand cheese salesman and brewer Kieran Haslett-Moore, who has lots of suggestions all over his blog.

It’s clear from our initial experiments, however, that it’s tougher than it looks.  It’s not really enough to say that ‘X type of beer goes with Y type of cheese’ as there is as much variety in cheese as there is in beer.  Still, it’s a lot of fun trying various different combinations, even if we did have nightmares afterwards.

Test set 1: Pilsener Urquell and Hoegaarden

We had four quite different cheeses to match up here to get some sense of the lay of the land. There was a nice soft goat’s cheese, a not-very-posh Camembert, some (rather boring) cheddar and some Roquefort.

One of our theories to date has been that Hoegaarden works with pretty much any kind of food including curry.  We were proved wrong. The goat’s cheese didn’t influence the flavour of the beer very much, although possibly brought out a little bitterness.  The camembert accentuated the citrus notes and was probably the best match.  The cheddar — dull as it was — still managed to overpower the Hoegaarden. The Roquefort completely killed it.

The goat’s cheese complemented the PU really well — it brought out the malty sweetness but kept the balance, whereas the camembert made the PU seem watery and less bitter.  The cheddar made it harsh and unbalanced.  The PU stood up remarkably well to the Roquefort, although overall we would say that the cheese won the battle.

We really enjoyed the Roquefort and are keen to find a beer that can handle it. More on that to follow and, as always, suggestions welcome.

Photo from cwbuechler at Flickr, license under Creative Commons.

czech republic

Pilsner Urquell: control subject?

Another Prague post we didn’t get round to putting up at the time…

On our first night in Prague, we grappled with a complex logic puzzle at the central station: how to buy an 18 crown tube ticket with a 2000 crown note, when everything is shut? It took us nearly an hour to make it to our hotel, by which time we were very grumpy indeed.

Fortunately, the pub across the road (U Ceskeho Lva) happened to serve Pilsner Urquell ‘tankova’. Tankova dispense is some complicated arrangement where the nasty gases used to pressurise the beer don’t come into contact with the beer itself, but push it out of a bag, resulting in a rather gentle, natural carbonation. It’s also unpasteurised, unlike the usual product. Nice. We sank several pints very easily and a bit too quickly.

It tasted just fantastic to us.

Five nights later, having made a whistle-stop tour of as many pubs and breweries as we could, we’d got a better handle on Czech beer, so when we returned for one final pint of tankova PU, we weren’t as blown away. It seemed a bit clinical; rather sharp; one dimensional. Where was the fruitiness; the body; the yeasty complexity of all those other beers we’d tried?

For all that, it’s still a great beer, and one we’ll continue to seek out in London. Our home city is a hard place to get decent pale lager, hence our enthusiasm for Meantime’s products, Moravka, Budvar and Urquell – and, for that matter, our tolerance for Staropramen.

You make the most of what you’ve got, right? And perception of quality is relative.

For more on tankova beers, this post by Pivni Filosof is very informative, as is Evan Rail’s Czech beer guide.