I made my way up to Bury Met for this year’s Bury Beer Festival just after five on Friday evening, picked up my £5 worth of beer tokens, paid my £2 pint glass deposit and then headed straight on over to the CAMRA bar.
I spotted bar-manager Tandleman right away and wandered on down to his section of the bar. He was deep in conversation, so rather than butt straight on in, I had a quick chat to one of his colleagues, who poured me a half of Steel City Brewing Nightmare on Henry Street. I stuck my nose in the glass (one big advantage of having a half in a pint glass is that it allows plenty of room for the vapours to congregate) and was rewarded with a big blast of hops, cut through with a tangerine tang. The flavour of this 5.2% ABV pale ale was excellent; dry and sharp but with just enough malt-sweetness to keep everything nicely in balance. This was my first Steel City beer and on the strength of this one I’ll be keeping an eye out for their other brews in future, definitely.
Sensing a lull in the ongoing conversation, I stuck my nose in and said hello to Tandleman. He in turn introduced me to the other gent, who turned out to be John Clarke, editor of the (rather excellent) Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA branch magazine, Opening Times. And that was that for the rest of the hour or so I was there – I’d made arrangements to meet up with friends in Manchester for food and a mini-crawl around the Northern Quarter so I was watching the clock – as I enjoyed a thoroughly convivial time chatting to messrs Tandleman and Clarke.
Topics of conversation were generally beery, but ranged widely: the desirability of Belgian beers, he best place to drink German ones, the appropriate length of time to cellar a strong bottled ale, the importance of proper conditioning to overall beer quality, the difference between a keg and a cask (the actual container – I’d always been a bit fuzzy on the details), recommended Manchester pubs, the best way to serve Marble Dobber (see next paragraph re: sparklers), the state of the UK beerblogosphere, the rise of the Euston Tap, the pros and cons of Brewdog Paradox, the Stockport Beer Festival (recommended: John will be running the foreign beers stand at next year’s event) and many, many more. I just wish I’d been able to stay longer. Also: that I’d remembered to pick up the copy of the latest edition of Opening Times that I managed to leave on the bar. Never mind, I’ll be sending off a subscription cheque later today.
Tandleman also set up a couple of tasting experiments: the three of us tried the same beers with and without a sparkler. Tandleman’s a big advocate of the device and I’ve always agreed that beer generally tastes better when served through one, but we thought we’d better test the theory a couple of times, just to make sure. We tried one dark beer and one pale and in both cases the aroma was enhanced, the mouth-feel was richer and individual flavour notes more pronounced. John made the point that a sparkler can sometimes transfer the bitter notes from the body to the head, but I suppose if you’re taking mouthfuls of both at once (the difference being that with a sparkler you actually get a head that lasts) then that’s okay. So there you go. (Okay, not quite conclusive proof of the theory, I know, so I’ll continue to do the research when I can and report back with my findings…)
During that hour I sampled another three beers as well (all halves). The first, as highly recommended by Tandleman, was Crown Brewery Samuel Berry’s Pale Ale. Beautifully fresh, this 5.1% ABV pale ale had mixed citrus hop flavours bursting out of it. There was a slight sour-sweet acidity as well, which helped to keep the overall bitterness in check, and a dry finish that was deeply refreshing. I thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of Crown’s 7.0% ABV Unpronounceable IPA earlier this year (although I’ve been too bone idle to write it up yet) and Samuel Berry’s is definitely in the same league. Well worth trying if you see it on draught, especially if you’re a fan of the likes of Marble Lagonda IPA, Hopback Summer Lightning, Hopdaemon Skrimshander, Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale, Little Creatures Pale Ale and the like.
Next up I opted for another Tandleman recommendation, although it was one I’d already made a note to try: Mallinsons Chocolate Stout. I love a good chocolate beer, when it’s done right (Marble Chocolate, Meantime Chocolate, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and Boggart Chocolat Noir being a few favourite examples) and this one was done just right. A distinct coffee nose gave way to dry, dark chocolate and coffee flavours for a cappuccino finish (Jo would love this one). An easy-drinker at only 4.1%, this would definitely be a great session candidate.
Finally, by now being very definitely in the mood for dark-and-roasty flavours, I went for the Crown Stannington Stout. I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about this one for a while and had clocked it as soon as I’d gotten to the bar: had to be done. At 5% ABV it has a little more kick than the Mallinsons, and a noticeably different flavour-profile. Slightly sweeter, with richer roast-malt flavours, the Stannington had a definite hint of sherry and a silkier mouth-feel as well. Deeply satisfying, the sort of stout I could sup a slow pint of any day of the week.
All the beers shared a couple of things in common: they were in excellent condition, having been beautifully kept and tasted fantastic. That Tandleman bloke? Knows his beer. Knows how to put on a good show (he’s got previous, too). If you hear about a beer festival that he’s either running the bar at or has helped buy the beer for, stick it in your diary and make a point of going.