Hit The North: National Winter Ales Festival 2011
Yesterday I had the good fortune of going to the National Winter Ales festival in Manchester. I was especially lucky to get trade tickets and also to go with a few brewers and bar folk. After getting the train over from Leeds I met up with James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery and Dean from Mr Foleys in the Marble Arch on the Rochdale Road. A great pub connected to a wonderful brewery, yesterday the beers included the spectacularly hoppy Utility Special IPA and the great Driscoll’s End, Dominic’s goodbye beer to the Marble brewery, before he heads across the Pennines to sunny Thornbridge.
It was good to meet members of the beer literati who we hadn’t met before, including Rob from Hopzine, Matt from Hawkshead (who had been judging) and Brian from The Grove, Huddersfield (along with a whole posse of Grovers). Even as a newcomer, it was a really nice, friendly, festive atmosphere, before we even got to the venue. Unable to resist, I bought myself two big Marble bottles before we left: a Utility Special and a Stouter Port Stout.
At the venue, which is a perfect size for the purposes, we were also introduced to more titans of the beer world from darkest Cumbria, the legendary Jeff Pickthall and the semi-mythical Hardknott Dave. Jeff was kind enough to give me a bottle of Croglin Vampire to review. We also bumped into Matt, Jim and some of the other staff from North Bar, as well as Matt’s wife Alice, now immortalised as the namesake of Brewdog’s Alice Porter, brewed with Matt’s input. We were even able to witness the elusive Tandleman working diligently at the festival, apparently unconcerned by the lack of Northern Methods Of Dispense despite the Mancunian setting.
Of course the beers were good too. Although the general view is that most of them were a bit on the fresh side, it being the first day and all, everyone who tried it seemed to be very impressed with James and Andy’s Diablo, a great IPA with dominant Citra flavours (although it also contains Centennial). Thornbridge’s Hark was a very nice beer, and was a little more interesting than Merrie, which was by contrast merely good. It was good to enjoy Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime on cask and Thornbridge St Petersburg was also very good. I liked the Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve too. I enjoyed festival champion Entire Stout by Hop Back, although it wasn’t necessarily the most interesting beer I tried. I’m sure the other beers I tried will come back to me over the next few days.
Of course after all that it was very clearly time to get a taxi back to Piccadilly for the long, challenging train home to Leeds and the struggle to recover adequately for work the next morning. Nevertheless the day was very enjoyable and well worth the hangover. Thanks to Tandleman and the rest of the organisers, but as I say, I was especially happy to meet so many friendly members of the international brotherhood of beer, who were far more welcoming to a mere prole than they had any reason to be. I’m looking forward to Twissup, by which time I should almost have recovered. Cheers!