Guest Post: Coming Soon – The Port Street Beer House, Manchester

John Clarke is the editor of Opening Times, the free CAMRA regional magazine covering the cities of Manchester & Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, NE Cheshire and Macclesfield. He’s been kept very much in the loop by the owners of the soon-to-be-opened Port Street Beer House, and very kindly sent me the following progress report to share:

Port Street Beer House LogoManchester is about to get it’s very own speciality beer bar – and it promises to be something of a star turn. Taking its inspiration from Leeds’ North Bar and London’s Rake, the Port Street Beer House (@portstreetbeer) is scheduled to open on 27 January. It is the brainchild of the team behind the increasingly impressive Common (@common_bar) on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter but will operate on a much bigger scale.

Situated just around the corner from former cask ale flagship the Crown & Anchor (Hilton Street) and a few minutes from Manchester icon the Jolly Angler (Great Ducie Street) the Port Street Beer House will drag the Northern Quarter’s burgeoning beer scene a few hundred yards south – but it will be worth the journey.

The cask offering will come via five handpumps – three will respectively feature the products of Thornbridge, Dark Star and Prospect breweries and the other two will feature a wide range of micro-brewed guest ales. There will be 14 draft foreign beers (although there is room for 20 products over time) and will include products from the likes of Lefthand, Amarcord, Sierra Nevada and Great Divide. From the UK expect to see BrewDog (inevitably) plus Moravka, arguably the best craft brewed lager currently being made in the country. Some of these will be fixtures and some changing guests.

Eventually there will be about 150 bottled beers although the opening range will be 60 – 80. Included in the opening range will be beers from Rouge, Caldera, Ballast Point, Unita, Victory, Smuttynose, Buckbean, Amarcord, Baladin, Delborgo, Great Divide, Odell, Flying Dog, Dogfish Head and Left Hand. There will also be a range of Belgian, German and other world beers.

This will be a blast.

Port Street Beer House
39-41 Port Street
M1 2EQ

Closed Mondays; Open 5 – 12 Tuesday – Friday; 12-12 Saturday & Sunday

[copyright (c) John Clarke, 2011, used with kind permission]

The Best Bottled Beer Shop in Manchester…

…at least as far as I’m aware, is the Micro Bar in the Manchester Arndale Market.

Run by the folks from the Boggart Hole Clough brewery, it used to be a single unit (about 10 feet across, six deep) with a small bar and three or four hand-pumps, with a shelf (just the one) of bottled beers behind the bar. But a few months ago they expanded by knocking-through to the unit next-door, making good use of the additional space to extend the bar and add another four or five shelves’ worth of bottled beers and ciders.

They now have a decent selection of beers from smaller and/or independent UK breweries that you probably won’t find in the supermarkets, as well as a few Belgian and US imports. In the past Jo and I have managed to find the likes of Wincle Undertaker, Bollington Oat Stout, Glencoe Oat Mill stout (she likes her oat stouts, does our Jo) and on our last visit, I picked up a bottle each of Dark Star Imperial and the Winter 10-11 vintage of the rather awesome Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and they had a couple of bottles of Brooklyn Local One in as well.

All in all, the Micro-Bar probably about 60 or 70 bottles to choose from. It’s not an amazing selection, not when you think of the huge range that places like Beer Ritz in Leeds, The Bottle in York or Utobeer in London’s Borough Market manage to pack into a relatively small amount of space, but it’s probably about as many as they can comfortably cram in, so full marks to them for effort. And unless anyone has opened a specialist beer shop in Greater Manchester and I’ve not heard about it (if you know of anywhere else, please let me know via the comments) it really is the best we’ve got around these parts.

Tasting Notes: Marble McKenna's Porter

Brewery: Marble Brewery [@marblebrewers]
Location: Manchester, England
Style: Porter
ABV: 4.5%
Version: Draught
Source: The Marble Arch, Manchester

Jo and I enjoyed a rather excellent session in the Marble Arch last Saturday, in the company of our good mate Paul and random-Marble-Arch-couple (*) Chris and Anna (or, um, possibly Hannah – my hearing and memory aren’t what they were), two real ale fans over from Sheffield to visit The Marble Arch and The Angel.

I started the evening off with a pint of Marble Best (now sub-titled ‘In Memory of JP’ on the pump-clip); a rich, chestnut-brown bitter that’s packed full of orange marmalade flavours. I switched to Marble Lagonda IPA for my second – partly to keep Paul company, partly because I’d decided that I’d got my hop-head on – and that was just as tasty, fresh and sharp as it always is.

Time for a third pint and to my delight, when I got back to the bar I spotted that they’d just put a new one on: Marble McKenna’s Porter (or possibly McKenna’s Reprise Porter, I can’t quite remember the exact wording) – which clearly had to be done. It turned out to be a rather classic example of the porter oeuvre, with plenty of smoky roast-malt flavour and a sharp, bitter-coffee edge. Delicious, it was. Another one of those went down a treat afterwards and then I finished the session off with a Marble Chocolate, seeing as the Marble Dobber wasn’t on.

Oh, and I picked up these two little beauties for the beer cupboard as well:

Marble Vuur & Vlam / Marble Chocolate Dubbel

They’re safely tucked away at the back, next to the Marble Special and Marble Decadence that I bought last year and still haven’t been able to bring myself to crack open yet…

(*) The Marble Arch is quite a small, narrow pub, with a row of tables along each long wall and a central aisle leading from the main door to the bar. Jo and I often find ourselves sitting down opposite a pair of complete strangers at a four-seater table (or having complete strangers sit down opposite us). It’s very easy to say hello and strike up a quick conversation along the lines of: “So, are you drinking the Dobber / Pint / Chocolate / Ginger / Best / Stouter Stout, then..? Good, isn’t it?” and we usually do. Sometimes that leads to a full-blown hour or so of friendly nattering and beer recommendation swapping, sometimes not. But I think it’s always nice to at least make the effort and it’s a testament to the atmosphere in the Marble Arch that this just seems like a perfectly natural and non-intrusive thing to do. I keep saying it, but it still bears repeating: best pub in Manchester, bar none.

Finding Great Beer in Surprising Places

You sometimes find great beer in the most surprising places.

A couple of weeks ago, Jo and I went out to a 40th birthday meal for one of her colleagues, which was held at Eden on Canal Street, in the heart of Manchester’s Gay Village. I did my research and checked out the Eden website beforehand, but when I clicked on the ‘Drink’ tab, it just linked through to a short wine list, so as a result I had rather low beverage-expectations of the place: a couple of lagers maybe, the usual sort of ‘wine bar’ offering, I assumed. So plan ‘A’ was: get in, do the sociable thing, then get out as soon as politely feasible and go find a decent pub.

Thornbridge JaipurWhich is why I was also particularly keen to get into town and get to a decent pub before we hit the restaurant. As luck would have it we caught an Altrincham service, which meant that The Bank on Moseley Street was a much closer prospect than the Bull’s Head up in Piccadilly. There I encountered the first Good Thing of the night: draught Thornbridge Jaipur. Beautifully kept it was and as good as I’ve ever found it, and so, suitably fortified against the rest of the evening’s anticipated disappointments, I let Jo drag me off to Eden.

On arrival, I went straight over to the bar and yes, as I’d predicted, there was just a couple of generic lager pumps on show (not even a creamflow bitter). But then, more in hope than anticipation, I glanced at the fridge behind the bar… and that’s when I spotted, nestled snugly in amongst the fruit juices and other chilled stuff I wouldn’t normally give a second glance to, a veritable cornucopia of quite fantastic-looking Australian imports. Result!

First up was Cooper’s Best Extra Stout; a delicious moccacino monster of a sipping beer that weighed in at a respectable 5.9% ABV that (particularly after a Jaipur) set me up quite nicely for the rest of the evening, thank you very much.

Next: a beer that has been unreservedly recommended to me on more than one occasion by @thenashmeister (another Darren, this one an Australian mate of mine from work): James Boag‘s Premium Lager; a rich, malty brew that’s low on gassiness, high on flavour and about as far from the usual UK mass-produced and massacred version of Aussie lager as you could hope to get without moving to the Antipodes.

Little Creatures Pale AleAnd then came Little Creatures Pale Ale. Easily the (post-Jaipur) Beer of the Night; extremely well-balanced, light, sweet and malty in the main part, but delivering a delightfully hoppy after-bite to the back of the throat as well. Very, very good indeed, which is why I had another one of those (by this point we were well into plan ‘B’ and besides, I was in a round with and chatting away to a top bloke who turned out to be an ex-Royal Marine, so I wasn’t going to argue when he suggested we have another, was I?), although as a result I missed out a beer from James Squires, as well as another couple of interesting looking Aussies… but they were just going to have to wait for another session.

For alas, by that stage we’d all finished eating (the food was excellent as well, btw, especially as they were catering for quite a large group at the time) and the birthday girl had hit on the notion to head across to O’Shea’s Irish Bar, where the only remotely decent beer they had was Guinness Original. On reflection, I probably shouldn’t have had three pints of that stuff to round off the evening. I blame the live music; singing along always gives me a thirst.

Little Creatures Pale Ale, James Boag's Premium Lager, Cooper's Bext Extra Stout - Result!

So there you go: great beer in a most surprising place. And I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, I’ll always check the beer fridge behind the bar, whatever the taps on top may be dispensing. Always.

Go on then, what’s the most surprising place that you’ve discovered great beer? Comment away!

Tasting Notes: a few session beers (Acorn, Titanic, Redemption & more)

I know I’m nowhere near the first beer blogger to suggest this (not by a long chalk), but fantastic as it is to sip and savour a huge, dry-roasted imperial stout or a gob-smacking, palate-shrivelling double-IPA, sometimes there’s nothing like a few good session bitters to see you through a pleasant evening (or two) of pleasant company down the pub.

Acorn Barnsley BitterA couple of weekends ago I was lucky enough to enjoy not one but two classic cases. On the Friday night I went out for a few jars and a chin-wag with my mate Andy. We started off down the Knott Bar, where I sampled a Titanic Port & Starboard (a 4.2% deep red-coloured ale with a rich malty main-flavour and a hoppy after-taste), followed by an Acorn Barnsley Bitter (3.8%, light, dry and hoppy). After that we wandered off to the Rising Sun, where we had a Leeds Best Bitter (4.3%, perfectly pleasant if not hugely remarkable) and then we nipped in for one more at the City Arms, where I had a Batemans G.H.A. Pale (another 4.2% hoppy and drinkable if not exactly amazing beer).

End result: after a couple of hours of chat and four pints each, we decided to call it a night. Personally I was feeling fine and dandy and nowhere near the worse for wear in the morning despite the 8-unit-or-so (technical) binge drinking session I’d indulged in the night before. So on Saturday I had no problem whatsoever heading out with Jo for date night at The Angel. The place is under new management and they’ve recently opened an upstairs dining room, which is where we sat to enjoy a particularly fine meal (red grouse for me and baked gurnard for Jo, both of which were delicious and are highly recommendable), accompanied by a couple more session bitters.

Fraoch Heather AleFirst up was Williams Bros Fraoch Heather Ale, which I’d only encountered in bottles before (a few years ago) and which turned out to be very good indeed on draught. Quite malty and slightly sweet, with a pleasant, light bitterness on the after-taste, it went down very easily indeed. Jo liked it so much she stuck with it for the rest of the evening, but I’d spotted a couple of others I wanted to try, so I switched to Redemption Urban Dusk, from a relatively new addition to the London brewery scene. This one was a 3.8%ABV dark bitter with a strong burnt-sugar flavour and plenty of malt. A very tasty dark beer that I wouldn’t mind trying again some time.

After that, I decided I was in the mood for something a bit more experimental, so I opted for a half of Hornbeam Lemon Blossom, a 3.7% pale ale that promised lemony freshness and turned out to taste like mildly alcoholic lemon curd; there was lemon zest in there, definitely, but the whole thing was carried along on a slightly stilton tang. Not entirely unpleasant, but not one I’d rush back to, either. And then I’m afraid I fell off the session wagon, because I’d spotted the big, boozy (6.6% ABV) Wensleydale Porter on draught at the very start of the evening and I’d been itching to try it ever since. Delicious it was, too: a big whack of roasty malt flavours, shot through with blackcurrant and fruitcake, with a nicely dry finish by way of contrast. A pint and a half of that one (Jo had the other half, having been tempted herself) and we called it a damn good night.

A Pretty Much Perfect Pub Session

Marble beerA good friend of mine came up from London on Saturday, so I thought I’d take him to the best pub in Manchester: the Marble Arch.

If you’re from round these parts then you might scoff at my casual handing out of the ‘best pub…’ accolade; I’m sure you’ll have your own favourite and I’m not intending to denigrate any of our city’s other very fine watering holes. But honestly, if there is a better pub than the Marble Arch around these parts then I haven’t found it yet (and please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments if you think you might have).

My friend (also called Darren) and I got there around four in the afternoon, and a serendipitous table vacancy opened up just as we were arriving, so we settled ourselves in for a few pints and a good catch-up. I went up to the bar and came back with two pints of golden, crystal-clear Marble Pint, one of the tastiest, freshest pale ales you’re ever likely to meet. We started talking – setting the world to rights, as you do – and soon finished off the pint of Pint and decided to move on to Marble J.P. Best; a classic best-bitter that’s not quite as hoppy as the Pint, slightly stronger on the malt and still extremely refreshing. It definitely went down a treat.

T’other Darren is a big Belgian beer fan and haunts a few of London’s Belgian brasseries when he can, so he perused the Marble’s beer menu with an expert eye, picking out a beer he’d heard of but not yet encountered down south. I forget the name now, as they were unfortunately out of stock. Instead, my eye was caught by the Phoenix Thirsty Moon, so we opted for a couple of those instead. Again, it was another quite delicious bitter, but in this one the malt had been turned up a noticeable notch; it was rich, sweet and pleasantly warming.

St Feuillien TripelBy now we were feeling distinctly sociable – chatting to the folks on the next table about the demonstrations in the city centre – and we decided that before Jo joined us and we ordered food, we’d have one more go at the Belgian section of the menu. Darren picked out a St Feuillien Tripel and it turned out to be a delicious and extremely drinkable golden Belgian with very rich malt flavours that weren’t at all over-powered by its 8.5% abv.

Jo arrived mid-way through our goblets and we quickly ordered food (Cornish gurnard for Jo, venison for me and the Marble burger and chips for Darren – all absolutely delicious) and then we ordered another round. The time had come for a stout and so we opted for the Marble Chocolate; a rich, warming, dark-cocoa laced beer with a great body and a gorgeous mouth-feel. It’s dangerously more-ish, too at 5.5% abv. Beautiful.

Acorn Gorlovka Imperial StoutBy this point Darren was declaring himself full and happy, but I’d seen one more beer I really wanted to try. Having enjoyed Acorn’s Old Moor Porter recently, I just had to have a drop of their Gorlovka Imperial Stout. It was quite different to the Marble Chocolate, with a much more pronounced coffee and liquorice flavour, but once again it was dangerously drinkable, even at 6% abv. Probably a good job I just had a half, all things considered.

As we departed the Marble Arch I cast a longing over-the-shoulder glance at the Marble Dobber pump, but I’d sampled its ample delights before and – even though it had taken the top prize the Manchester Beer Festival the day before – I knew our paths would cross again, so I was content to let it lie.

The evening wasn’t quite over yet. We headed back to our place and I cracked open one of my precious stash of BrewDog Tokyo and poured it (ever so responsibly) into two glasses. Darren made all the right appreciative noises about this truly terrific beer and then we finished off with a wee dram of cask strength Edradour, just to send us nicely on our way.

The next morning, we (I say ‘we’, I mean ‘Jo’ – I was in no fit state) drove Darren back to Piccadilly station (this time sans riot police thronging the streets), chatting about the previous evening’s beers on the way. Darren’s favourite had been the Phoenix Thirsty Moon. Mine (Tokyo aside) was probably honours even between the Marble Pint, the Thirsty Moon and the Marble Chocolate, although frankly, they were all rather excellent and I wouldn’t hesitate to re-visit any of them.

So, there you go. A pretty much perfect session at the best pub in Manchester? In my opinion, yes. Can’t wait to get back to the Marble Arch for another.