Flogging a dead ‘oss

twissupSeveral weeks ago I posted this about #MaccToTheFuture, this years now seemingly annual beer gathering or #Twissup in Macclesfield, at the time really excited and hopeful that the idea was sound and would gather loads of interest. Sadly though, very little has come of it in terms of active involvement from either breweries or beer writers, so we have decided that its time to probably pull the plug on the idea and move on.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed, I am, especially that no beer writers seemed interested in getting something going, but hey, that’s just the way it is, forget it, dust off, move on, NEXT!

10359148_10154603868995788_8429793537792974573_nTo be clear though, we are intending to continue doing something, #MaccToTheFuture will happen if the desire is there from folks to hold it, we’ll just use the tried and tested formula of getting great beers sorted and hopefully a few new brew launches as with earlier years. So watch this space on that front, beers are being sourced and all ideas* are welcome too. *contacts below

So, the proposed date is still Saturday 22 August 2015, stick it in your beer diaries and let me know if you are interested in coming along, either by comments here, via twitter @Filrd or the Facebook page.



Macclesfield beer gathering III – #MaccToTheFuture

As you may or may not know, I have helped organise an event in Macclesfield over the last two years, a Twissup, beer gathering, meet up, call it what you will. Both seem to have been well received, many new beers produced and especially with the most recent, many brewers attending to chat and drink alongside customers.

This last year (2014) under the “Back In Macc” banner, we tried to focus on new breweries and brewers not yet quite there commercially, giving them a chance to showcase something to a decent sized audience. (the “we” by the way is myself and mainly Toby Mckenzie of RedWillow Brewery, ably assisted by local pub/bar owners Chris Stairmand and Bronwyn Riley of The Wharf and Treacle Tap respectively) plus friends/supporters. There are a few pics from previous events in progress below:


IMG_0242 IMG_0265 IMG_0261IMG_6369

10659166_10154603871210788_1359327912401101491_n10600646_10154603870660788_3115339361503113849_nAnyway, it seems folk want another in 2015 so I’m exploring an idea.

What I am trying to do is get an “Old School” or traditional brewer(y), perhaps family generational owned, or anyone with a bit of history of just being plain good at what they have always done with no great desire to change as such. Hopefully avoiding those who have already tried “reinventing themselves” with a “CRAFT arm” or branding.

Then get them to pair up with a newer brewer(y), perhaps noted for being one of the new breed, progressive styled or trendier etc. The idea being that they create something together, not trying to change one or the other, or prove which is best. Maybe take an old recipe and recreate it, give an existing beer a new twist, or create something completely new. A no holds barred, free rein brief. Perhaps simplified as a meeting of minds. Clearly I’m talking about more than one collaborative brew here, it would be slightly limited in appeal otherwise, in fact the more the merrier..

The title of the event should it come to fruition is likely to be “Macc To The Future” but that’s not carved in stone if it doesn’t suit what works out. #Macctothefuture

To add to this and perhaps where some of you good people reading this come in. I’d like to also pair up a writer/blogger up with each collective (locally if possible), to work on the idea, join in with the brew day and promote it. The proposed timing is a Saturday around late Aug to mid Sept 2015 (tbc asap).

Unfortunately there is no money in this for anyone, it’s a labour of love, as it costs the venues a lot to buy the beers, and a lot of time and energy is given locally with the only beneficiaries being a local charity in past years. This from beer and food donated free by RedWillow at the Brewery.

This is the list of potential target breweries that came out of my first Twitter/Facebook poll as being perhaps unfairly overlooked as being “off trend”. Some may not suit and we probably wouldn’t be able to do them all, it does give us a wider scope though. It’s also worth noting that this list does not exclude anybody necessarily either, purely a starting point for reference.

Hook Norton
G W Wright
Burton Bridge
J W Lees
Black Sheep
Sam Smiths
Shepherd Neame
St Austel
Note: Adnams and Thwaites were also suggested, but my thought process puts them a little too far down the “reinvented” path, with the Crafty Dan brewery and the newer Adnams ranges, but included for fairness and reference as they were suggested. This though to be clear does not exclude them either, if there is a perfect match out there.

Ground rules.

In terms of what to brew, I suggest a no holds barred approach as I’ve said, anything goes, although clearly we’d need to try to make sure we didn’t end up with all big ABV’d bruisers

Each brew definitely needs at least someone there to represent each beer collective collaboration, it just adds to the occasion, giving folks a chance to talk about and be talked to about the project and promote it.

Cost is important of course to make sure the beer bill doesn’t spiral out of control and make this a burden for anyone. So please bare that in mind when deciding what to brew, or at least be prepared to ask a reasonable price of the guys hosting it in the town. It’s for fun not profit on this occasion.

If you are interested let me know, get in touch and register interest, especially if you have a collective in mind. We can then see if there is any mileage in pulling it together and set a firm date.

Contact me via twitter @filrd

Or via the MaccTwissup Facebook page here

Or comment on this post and we can arrange on how to get in touch, unfortunately listing email addresses on here leads to a massive spam-fest!!



Take it to the Bridge

IMG_1602I can still remember my first taste of Jaipur, from memory it was at the Post Office Vaults in Burslem (that part is vague..), but thinking about it now, and I still can’t quite believe that was ten years ago, it was probably my sort of gateway into new, exciting British beer.

I have a definite clear recollection of thinking “wow, that is damn delicious, but far too strong”, “I’ll have a half”…. Which again, is a fair assessment of my current drinking habits as I now almost never drink pints of anything, although clearly having just visited Thornbridge and collected my case of their 10th Anniversary “Jaipur X” a 10% Imperial version of the classic original IPA, my fear of higher strength beer has long since gone.

InnovationPassionKnowledgeEven now as I write this, its as if a lightbulb has gone off in my head, “Innovation” the first word of three, proudly displayed on every Thornbridge label, “Innovation – Passion – Knowledge“, what it actually means to me. Ten years further down my own beer journey, the beers I most like drinking most are very much like, this, stronger, interesting, flavoursome and bursting with aroma, drunk and savoured in smaller measures.. It all pretty much started here.

Anyway, yesterday rather than take delivery, I decided to take a run over to the brewery and collect my Jaipur X (and a few other goodies), as it’s a lovely drive across the Peak District, through Leek, Longnor, Crowdecote and Monyash, then down to Bakewell. This stunning if bleak, countryside making the journey worthwhile in itself, but as if all this wasn’t enough, I was also lucky enough to have been offered a quick tour by Brewer and Production Manager, Dominic Driscoll as he knew I was heading over, an offer I was delighted to accept.


IMG_1603I was met by Dom in the brewery shop, who was mid brew but clutching a rather delicious glass of Cocoa Wonderland for me to sample, an absolutely sumptuous chocolate porter, it smelled amazing and tasted as good as anticipated, making me immediately sad that I was driving and unable to down the lot (one to look out for). He explained that he was a tad busy but left me in the capable hands of James Buchanan (European Sales and Marketing Manager) to show me around until we met later.

Stepping out of the cosy warmth of the shop and into the icy Derbyshire air, we took a stroll down to where it all begins and it starts to dawn on you how far Thornbridge have come since 2005 as you look out of the specialist grain store doorway to see vast silo feeding the automated mill within and onwards spiralling up through to the main brew house.


IMG_1607We follow that grain though to a room full of gleaming steel, row upon row of towering Fermenting Vessels/Conditioning tanks, linked as one by a series of shining arteries to the central hub that sits on a platform above. It’s here where we again find Dom at the breweries heart, absolutely not posing for this photograph at all (maybe a sideline as a catalogue model in the offing?).

Joking aside, he was actually hands deep into bags of glorious hops, a handful of which he thrust into my own mitts to break up and release those delicious aromas (that I could smell all the way home as I drove). Bag after bag of hops went into the next batch of AM:PM, ready to slowly filter through the leafy green layers gathering all that tropical fruity goodness as it goes.

IMG_1608Next stop was the control room, or “the bridge” as I called it, the brain of the “Thornbidge Enterprise”, where all the technical shizzle happens, if you’ve eve played Fiz, it’s like that on a massive scale and without that bastard Gary Blau..

IMG_1609Every inch of the process is mapped out before you on these two screens, with vessels, valves, temperature, inlet and outlets monitored, logged and controlled from this seat.

IMG_1610Immediately behind the captain’s chair, is the lab, where all the brews are tested, yeast propagated, beers force aged, clarity checked and mechanically shaken to make sure every beer you get is as good as the last, and doesn’t explode in your face..

IMG_1614Our last stop off was again after a quick trip across the yard to another unit, armed with a small key attached to a wooden key ring the size of a half brick. Inside is a warm room stacked high with barrel upon barrel of ageing beers, the latest batch Sour Brown took up one section, the other “Project Serpent” a very interesting sounding collaboration brew with Garett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, made using Oliver’s Cider lees aged on Four Roses Bourbon barrels.


IMG_1616Tour over we headed back to the shop to collect my previously acquired case of Jaipur X and friends, we said our thanks and goodbyes, I loaded the car then set off again into the snowy peaks towards Stoke.

IMG_1600Giving it some thought as I drove, what struck me was how good a beer could consistently be, even on such an industrial scale. The guys at Thornbridge may be brewing on massive kit, but it is still done with the same levels of passion and commitment to flavour and quality now, as it was when they first started, in fact probably more so. Only the finest ingredients are used and the same goes with additives to specialist brews, as I can testify after sampling peanut butter from a split tub about to go into Charlie Brown (a tactic I remarked which was employed to shut me up from my excited chattering). Big doesn’t have to be boring, bland or twiggy brown, as can often be the case with many of those trying to imitate what happens here using only fancy rehashed “craftesque” branding.

IMG_1631Finally, you may be wondering what I thought of Jaipur X, well, I thought it made my head go all wobbly…

A massive thanks to Dominic, James and all the guys at Thornbridge for taking time out to show me around and chat on such a busy day, Cheers guys, here’s to the next ten years. 



Beyond The Velodrome

Leaving home for Manchester yesterday, I had to confess I did so with a hint of trepidation. Not beating around the bush, I’ve felt more than a little let down with some of the CAMRA led beer festivals I’ve attended recently, which is not a dig at CAMRA nor the fabulous volunteers that organise and run these events, it’s hard work and a thankless task at times I know. More a wish that the guys choosing the beers to serve would be a little more “adventurous”, rather than sticking with the same beverages once used to champion the fight against Watneys Red Barrel ;)

Anyway moving on, that uneasiness was not helped by a few comments I’d picked up about Wednesdays opening session which were less than complimentary for various reasons. But, I am very, very happy to say that those feelings proved most thoroughly unfounded on my experience, perhaps first night teething problems on Weds?

IMG_1467Getting to the venue was an absolute breeze, once we established the right Metro platform (which became obvious from those gathered there already), £3 return, ten minutes and bosh, direct link to the festival.

Wisely opting for a quiet afternoon session, there were no queues and with minimal fuss we are in and looking our first brewery bar. Jointly hosted by OffBeat, Blackjack, Ilkley, Bridestones and already I am spoiled for choice, but wasting little time I picked the tongue in cheekly named “Copyright Ingingement” from Blackjack to christen my stemmed half/third glass which gets another tick from me.

We wandered then down the stairs that lead under the track to the main beer hall. As you emerge, although you are in what is basically a bloody big sports hall, it is still an awesome sight as the velodrome opens out before you. The gracious sweeping curve of continuous pine is just stunning, a real first for me and worth the trip for that alone.

IMG_1471Watching Team GB training too was an absolute privilege, where else can you sample wonderful beers with such a spectacular backdrop. The speed at which these athletes storm around the track is at times dizzying, but never stops drawing the eye throughout the day, which could be very dangerous after too many samples..

IMG_1474As I explored the venue further the more I liked it, the main hall is well spread out, with lots of tables, although as usual folks set up camp and close ranks on those for the duration, however it doesn’t feel cramped and the bars are well manned making choice and purchase a breeze. To add to this there are bars spread all around the periphery of the trackside, adding to that feeling of space and with the added bonus of seating opportunities aplenty for those weary or wobbly beer legs. Great views from up there too.

IMG_1476Throwing a negative in here at this point, as you’d expect from a moaning old bugger like me, the food… I’m sorry but very poor, perhaps apart from the ploughman’s stall which at least looked appetising. The Mexican buffet, a row of six or seven tins on warming platters that looked like they had been there all day. A curry and pie area which reminded me of a school dinner hall,  and the Teppanyaki sushi and noodle bar. The latter being our selection of choice for both meal and late afternoon snack, and perhaps where the poor description is slightly unfair. The food itself here was actually very nice, it just wasn’t hot which for a style of food preparation based on show cooking was really disappointing. As a tip for the organisers next time, assuming you have choice and are not forced by venue contracts, look at what IndyMan Beer Con do, surely in Manchester there are plenty of top quality food retailers who would do you proud and be glad of the opportunity to showcase their talents.

IMG_1478In true “kiss, slap, kiss” style, back to the beer, and where this event excelled, going some way to restore my faith and hope for future CAMRA beer festivals. What a really wide ranging interesting selection, it just seemed to cater for everyone. There is hope beyond the velodrome!

Yes there were the old faithful standards, some safer bets so to speak, but clearly a lot of folks enjoy them so fair do’s. But there were also a good proportion of newer breweries and some more adventurous brews too.

IMG_1472We were also treated to not one but TWO foreign beer bars ,with a huge, top quality range on draught and in bottle. Highly unlikely I know, but wouldn’t it be great to have another bar, selling the best of British keg at next years bash, to let folks make up their own minds on this most controversial of subjects? (hides behind the sofa)


IMG_1468I can honestly say, with hand firmly on heart, that I did not have a beer that I didn’t enjoy all day and came away with many more that I would loved to have tried if time had allowed. From memory, these were my choices….

Blackjack – Copyright Ingingement
Tiny Rebel – Dirty Stop Out 12 month BA Brett
Hawkshead – NZPA
Marble/Hawkshead – Beer Matts
Marble – 125 Barley Wine
Tapped Brew – Mojo
De 3 Horne – Kerselaere
NMBC – New World IPA Dry Hopped
NMBC – Monacus
Opat Kvasnicak – Coriander
Andechs – Dunkelweisse
Wild – Yankee Sandwich
Oersop/Oedipus – Flavoured Saison
Ramses – Den Dorstige Tijger

Well done to all involved in that selection process and to those who set up served them to the multitudes. There were also some top folks errr, ‘supervising” too..


A quality day out, a serious big thanks and well done to all involved. See you next year and I promise I won’t wear lycra..

“We all need another beer-oh
We don’t ever want to goooo home
All we want is to be back, at the Velodrome..”

Sorry…I’ll get me coat…


Slow Cooked Steak in a Port and Mushroom Sauce with Gnocchi

It has been a while since I did any sort of cooking/recipe type posts on here, but as this seemed to go down well with my Facebook chums, and I’d bothered to scribble down what I’d done for some of them  thought I may as well share it here too.
Also it’s worth mentioning here, that as it was never intended for publication, the photographs featured are hardly describable as informative…apologies for that.
Anyway here goes, the ingredients are approximate but not far off, serves about three people or two if you like a good munch, but just double up to feed a bigger group, it’s a really hearty cockle-warmer.


500g lean steak (this would work even better with something fattier like shin beef but we were trying to be healthy)
1 carton of passata (sieved tomatoes)
2 medium onions cut into chunky wedges
3 cloves garlic (peeled but not chopped)
Tspn Italian herbs (or fresh) & to taste.
2 bay leaves
2 heaped tspn plain flour
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper (about a tspn each)
Glass of port or red wine (or more to taste)
Beef stock cube with about 400ml boiling water.
Handful of mushrooms quartered
Mix the flour salt and pepper in a bowl, throw in the steak and toss in the seasoned flour to coat the meat and until all the dryness has gone.
In a wok/large frying pan/skillet, throw in a splash of olive oil, when hot add the onions and garlic, frying on a medium heat for 1 minute.
Add the steak and cook until all the meat is sealed and starting to brown.
Pour in the passata and beef stock, stirring well to get all that lovely meaty coating off the bottom of the pan.
Finally mix in the port, herbs and bay leaves, stirring further whilst bringing to a simmer.
Then, transfer to a covered casserole pot and cook on a med to low oven at about 150-160 for approximately 3 hours. Keep checking to make sure the sauce is thickening but not drying out.
At that point I added the mushrooms and a touch more seasoning to my personal taste and put it  back in the oven (lid on still) for a further hour.
Note: You can add the mushrooms at the beginning if you wish, but I prefer them to retain a bit of firmness which is lost if slow cooked in my opinion. Also, I am sure this would be even better if a slow cooker was used and it cooked all day, so is perfect to put in before work and have a lovely home cooked meal to look forward to.
I served this fresh with gnocchi (supermarket bought), it only takes about 3 to four minutes to cook. Once the gnocchi is cooked through, add at the last 5 minute before serving mark and stir in to coat with that indulgent velvety sauce. It could be served with pasta or creamy mash for a similar effect though.
Tip: If it is getting too thick whilst cooking, add a bit more stock or port (not Stockport) & lower the heat slightly, remember though, that sauce needs to be thick and velvety to coat the gnocchi and just be generally lush..
220px-Rochefort-beersFor a beer to pair with recommendation, I thought back to a Mark Dredge FABPOW post from several years ago, where he went for Rochefort 8 to go with Spaghetti Bolognese. Although a very different sauce of course I am sure these would still compliment each other really well, or maybe go even heavier with perhaps a Chimay Blue (Grande Réserve) which is often available in supermarkets or even better, Rochefort 10…enjoy
Tryanuary Support your brewers, breweries, beer retailers, pubs and bars by sampling something new this January, follow #Tryanuary on Twitter for updates.

Golden Pints 2014

Wow, January 9th already, time is flying by and already into week two of 2015, let’s do this….

2014 has been a very different year for me, challenging even. Family traumas to endure and attempt to overcome. A long, long period of work related issues with negative knock on effects physically, mentally and financially. With the whole melting pot leading to I suppose, a degree of lethargy. All of which means that I haven’t done as much of anything, be that drinking, travelling, reading or writing on the beer front.

However, personal issues aside it has still been another marvellous year for beer, to be involved in beer and be around great beery folk. New beer festivals have popped up and old favourites got better, breweries did pretty much the same. New characters have appeared both in person at events and on the writing scene too. Beer, is good…

Wittering over, Golden Pints, my favourite things in 2014…

900000021010Favourite UK Cask Beer: Roosters – Baby Faced Assassin, I have to admit that I have become a bit of a keg-head in recent times, but wherever I’ve seen this beer appear I still get a buzz of excitement, even when presented with a beer board of keg delights like those at RedWillow Bar Macc, all get bypassed for a little Roosters Magic. Speaking of magic, special mention number one has to go to Magic Rock for the amazingly consistent High Wire, it always smells and tastes wonderful. Also to Cheshire Brewhouse for Sorachi Ace at Birmingham Beer Bash, lovely stuff proving Sorachi is Ace..


Favourite UK Keg Beer: Hmmm “bit of a keg-head” I said, bit of a forgetful numpty-head more like. I thought this would be easy, but my memory is crap and my Untappd (supposedly there to remind me) check in’s are somewhat lacking this year. Anyway conscious that I may have forgotten some, clearly beers that have stuck in my memory have done so for a reason. Buxton’s Rain Shadow was the first to pop into my mind, a massive Impy Stout which was far too drinkable even when blended with the also awesome Buxton Double Axe. Standard Axe Edge (standard??) is also always up there on my must drink list and NEVER lets me down EVER!

Honourable mentions to Weird Beard for the Sadako Ardbeg BA and the fantastic Elusive collaboration Lord Nelson, also Moor – Hoppiness, Summer Wine – Mauna Kea IPA and Wild Beer – Evolver. I could go on and on but… Rain Shadow!

Favourite UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Easy, Salopian – Kashmir. I drink absolutely shit-loads of different bottled beers, but fell head over heels in love at with this beer from the very first bottle. You can smell the tropical fruity hit as the cap releases the first hiss, hypnotic aromas drawing you in from across the room like a scene from the Bisto Kids..


Honourable mentions, again, wow so many, but Moor Beer Co for Hoppiness (again) is just ace and their Fusion Cider Barrel Aged Old Ale can only be described as pure drinking pleasure.

IMG_9616Favourite Overseas Draught: As I said earlier I’ve had very few foreign trips this past year, but on our main holiday to Mexico it was incredibly good to find Los Muertos and their fabulous brewpub in Puerto Vallarta. Not to be confused with “Cerveceria Mexicana” who’s beers are beginning to circulate over here under the banner “cervezas de los muertos”.

I wrote about the visit here and promised to publish a brief chat I had with owner/brewer Conner Watts a few days later, SEVERAL MONTHS later I still haven’t, but will… A great bar with some interesting beers, the best of which I recall was Revenge Pale Ale. Of course I’ve drunk many more foreign draft beers over here in Blighty too, Lagunitas – Maximus quite recently, and who can forget the amazing De Struise – Pannepot, both of which appeared in Macclesfield in 2014, a testament to this great towns drinking credentials.

Favourite Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: I had my first taste of Brouwerij De Dochter van de Korenaar this year thanks to @6townsMart and since from Beermoth, Extase in particular really blew me away, I searched in vain for any beer notes taken, but liquid hoppy marmalade keeps looping into my head…buy some, try it!

nicked from @jezza off of that Twitter

nicked from @jezza off of that Twitter

Honourable mentions to De Ranke for XXX Bitter, and Brouwerij The Musketeers for their fabulous Troubadour Magma Triple Yeast, which I described as “caramelised pineapple upside down cake on acid”, I liked it you see…

Favourite collaboration brew: Has got to be the Buxton and Omnipollo collaboration Yellow Belly Peanut Butter Biscuit Stout, if only this picture was in smellovision….. “doffs cap”


“Yellow belly” — a person who is without courage, fortitude, or nerve; a coward.

To us, one of the most cowardly deeds is to act anonymously, hiding behind a group.
A signifying trait of institutionalised racism.
This beer is brewed to celebrate all things new, open-minded and progressive.
A peanut butter biscuit stout with no biscuits, butter or nuts. Taste, enjoy, and don’t be prejudiced. Henok Fentie, Karl Grandin, Denis Johnstone, Jake Oulsnam, Geoff Quinn, Colin Stronge.

Other tip-top collaborations this year included “Lord Nelson” from the ever talented folk at Weird Beard and Elusive Brewing, also De Passie from Ilkley and Rooie Dop 

Favourite Overall Beer: I am going to stick my neck out here and say Kashmir from Salopian. I could have picked any one of the above top choice beers, especially considering the inclusions of Yellow Belly, Axe Edge, Baby Faced Assassin, Hoppiness, Extase and Troubadour etc. But if I think back over what beer I have looked forward to, supped the more of and would most dearly love to see filling my fridge right now it’s Kashmir. Salopian go quietly about their business, but they are growing and word is spreading far and wide, if you see a bottle or two of this knocking about, you know what to do..

Favourite Branding, Pumpclip or Label: Buxton – Yellow Belly for its controversial simplicity, drawing the drinker in to see that it’s not actually controversial at all.


and Weird Beard for everything they do…


Favourite UK Brewery: Are you shitting me, I can’t decide that?

Buxton feature heavily throughout this post so of course they are up there, but also Magic Rock, Burning Sky, Weird Beard, RedWillow, Siren, Roosters, Summer Wine, Moor Beer Co, Wild Beer Co, Beavertown, Thornbridge, Hawkshead, any UK brewery listed on this post for starters and oh so many more that aren’t, I salute you all….

Favourite Overseas Brewery: A similar story to above really, can’t choose, won’t choose, sue me! Omnipollo, St Bernardus, De Dolle, TilquinDe Ranke, Brouwerij De Dochter van de Korenaar, Toccalmatto, De Molen, SNAB and Jopen to mention but a few…

Favourite New Brewery Opening 2014: Runaway, runaway with it! Mark is a great guy and is brewing some exciting stuff as sampled at #BackInMacc earlier this year. Keep em peeled…Runaway-Brewery-Group

Favourite Pub Of The Year: I am oh so happy to write these words, “HopInn, Albert Street Newcastle Under Lyme”, happy as it means I now only have to travel around ten minutes to be able to sample beers from Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Mallinsons, Hopcraft and such like, all of which were almost unseen in the area until the Hopinn opened its doors in February of this year. Martin and Ginny Ford took an old under utilised pub, gave it a good old spruce up to make it clean and welcoming, then set out with one mission in mind, serving great beer. They succeeded….



Honourable mentions should also go to the Holy Inadequate, another local pub with a similar approach who hold bloody good mini beer festivals several times a year, serve guest keg including beers such as the wonderful Buxton Double Axe this year, have a great bottle list and delicious pork pies too. Finally, last but not least, my old faithful in Macclesfield, The Wharf.

Favourite Bar of 2014: Although not new and hence the title change RedWillow Bar in Macc continues to go from strength to strength with a massive and exemplary beer and spirit line up, great food including a delicious pizza menu, topped off with a creative events calendar to cover all tastes. Definitely my favourite place to drink in 2014. Again not new but new to me, Brewdog Shepherds Bush was my highlight of the year. I think I’d sort of fallen out of love with Brewdog bars until I paid this a visit, the beer menu didn’t excite me as much as it used to, perhaps because the core range gets about a bit and other things too. But Dean has really raised the bar in Sheps, the place spacious and comfortable, staff are even more attentive than normal and that beer menu, oh my lord, that beer menu..

Honourable mention has to go to the Northern Monk Refectory in Leeds. I can’t list it truly as my “newly opened” favourite bar as in truth I’ve not actually been in it when physically open. I did though have the pleasure of spending a few hours there with head brewer Brian whilst it was under renovation though and it looked stunning then, you truly would not believe what lies inside these walls… One for 2015 definitely!



Most enjoyable beer and food pairing:Strawberry and tonka bean rice pudding, hazelnut and nasturtium” served with The Kernel “Export Stout. Yes a bit of a mouthful in more ways than one, this was at the Lord Clyde kitchen takeover at RedWillow Bar, with the tasting menu created by chef Ernst Van Zyl, this was an absolute match made in heaven.

The other was Neil at Great North Pie‘s “breakfast pie” creation served at this years BaccInMacc twissup, served at Treacle Tap it went with EVERYTHING!

Favourite Beer Festival(s) of the Year: This was always going to be a close call between Birmingham Beer Bash and Indyman, both were fantastic events, similar aims, very different executions both of which were really enjoyable. The Bash was hampered by scorching weather on one hand, but it also helped create a really relaxed outside vibe, although the cellar management guys may not agree.. ;) Indyman, was perhaps more polished, well into its own groove and swinging it baby, superb venue, more rooms, great atmosphere as always. I declare this one a big fat draw!

I also had the pleasure of Hawkshead Spring Fest this year, such a beautiful place and a very close third to the above. If you’ve not been trust me it s worth the journey, just don’t expect telecommunication, it’s totés rural..

Supermarket of the Year: M&S especially in the latter part of 2014. Also rans… Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

Independent Retailer of the Year: Cotteridge Wines is still hard to beat in my opinion, an incredible range, great service and with the addition of the new tasting room that is unlikely to change very soon. I just wish it was closer, although this would come with additional dangers.. Similarly Beermoth in Manchester’s Northern Quarter is a must visit when in the city, the new sampling and events room is great and I had the enormous pleasure of sharing beers with a tasting session held by Nino Bacelle of De Ranke there last year.   Closer to home Brewtique in Macc, The Beer Emporium in Sandbach and Beerdock in Crewe are all doing really well and have a fine range of beers between them although all three are very different in how they do things.

Online Retailer of the Year: Although I’ve not really used many this year I’d say Beermerchants. With a special mention also for my local friends at Best Of British Beer.

Best Beer Book or Magazine: “Belgian Beer and Food” A must read for anyone with an interest for what’s best to drink and fill your face with on your next trips, a mix of old school, high-profile and lesser known breweries and establishments. Still in its infancy and only on issue four, they need your support to continue and grow, cheap too at only €16 for 4 quarterly issues. Check them out here.cover-issue-3-400x530

Favourite Beer Blog or Website: I’ve read less beer blogs than ever this year, which is slightly hypocritical as I write one. I had my reasons which are not for sharing here, but it’s also fair to say some of my personal favourite reads were not posting much themselves for reasons of their own too. What surprises me most when I actually think about what I did read or view most last year is that the main candidate wasn’t posting in written form and was video blogging, a format that I don’t normally watch or follow that much, but I do enjoy Rob Derbyshire’s Hopzine so he takes this one for me.

Other favourite reads this year include Jim’s “Beers Manchester” and Matt’s “Half Pint Gentleman“, both of which offer a mix of beer and pub reviews plus some top beer travel inspiration and advice.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: Dave Bishop or @broadfordbrewer Dave has been a friend now for several years and….hang on, hang on, to save my typing, nothing much has changed since last year…

Winners of this most prestigious award this year are, Dave, aka “@broadfordbrewer” who always makes me smile (because he’s clearly barmy). Plus of course my partner in crime Chris aka “@ckdsaddlers“, the Watler to my Staldorf, an entertaining drinking partner and a bloody good egg, even when he’s talking Wolverhungaristonian”.


Best Brewery Website/Social media: Lovely folk, great Twitter and Facebook presence, a blog and a whizzy website, what’s not to love about Weird Beard. Whatever happened to James aka Summer Wine Brewery’s Raising The Bar, a comeback in 2015 maybe?


Phew, that’s it, I think Im finally done, NURSE, medication time….



Beer Belly?

I’ve always been a bit of a porker really, well that’s not strictly true actually, lets just say I have “struggled” with my weight in one way or another, and generally speaking have ended up being at the wrong side of the scale most of the time.

P1030581As a child, one of my earliest memories on the subject harks back to the days of family teas at my Nan’s house. These were traditional affairs I suspect replicated in many of your own minds when thinking of childhood, cold meat sandwiches of SPAM, or tinned ham if we had company. Tinned pink salmon complete with crunchy bones soaked in vinegar. Malt loaf, Caramel Wafers, Chocolate Teacakes, pink and white Coconut Mallows, Snowballs and the obligatory Battenberg Cake. The finale always being the centrepiece Birds Trifle complete with “Dream-Topping”, or on the odd occasion a choice of Angel Delight or Instant Whip..

I was quite skinny back then (shock horror), and I can still remember my grandparents poking me in the ribs and saying “you need to eat that, get some beef on your bones” etc. Especially as back then I hated butter (or margarine), and coming from a Northern family, this was a complete no-no. Butter is a “must eat” food item. (Just ask a certain Yorkshire TV Chef, or watch about any ten random seconds, of ANY of his bloody programmes…) Basically, I was always encouraged to pile on the weight to become, “healthy”.

Until of course I did, THEN, “I was too fat…”


Disclaimer* (Not really me by the way)

Fast forward a few years (a very lot), and a health check at my local Doctors Surgery. The practice Nurse asked if I minded having a student in the room with my while I was examined, I said it was fine and we continued. Stripped to the waist (me, not her), she turned me to the student, plunged her own very pudgy finger (pot and kettle I thought) knuckle deep into one of my pecs/moobs (delete as applicable), and said to him “do you know what causes these?”

Before I had chance to blurt out “they, are the results of strenuous physical exercise” in protest, she turned her glare to meet my own and said, “BEER!!”

Now if I’m honest with myself, at the time I believed she was right and have always thought that beer has had a major part to play in my rotundness, especially in recent years. This thought ably assisted by continuously having beer being named and shamed by every “health expert” under the sun, in some study we’ve paid for in grants over many years. The most recent of course that breweries should have to start putting calorific content values on everything they produce for sale.

Which brings me to Chubvember…

To most people this will mean nothing, but also perhaps seem quite familiar.. During November, a small group of mainly beery friends and I took part in this as a bit of a weight loss self motivational drive. Mostly via a private Facebook group although there may have been the odd Twitter breakout. Nothing serious, just a bit of fun with the Chubvember name being a tongue in cheek dig at the various none drinking/eating/smoking months that seem to have jumped on the Mo-vember bandwagon. There were no rules, no targets, nothing was banned, but I personally chose to at least try and reduce my alcohol intake.

In the beginning I did this for two reasons, the obvious one being that I was too heavy, I felt it draining me, my clothes were starting to strain and I wanted a change for me. The second, the alcohol part, was more that I felt I needed a break, it wasn’t as important any more, things were becoming stale. At least that was, in the beginning, before I sort of wanted to prove a personal point.

After the first few days, of no beer (or alcohol), I think I shocked myself as to how easy I found it to lay off the booze. It definitely took my wife and close friends by surprise too I think, all of whom were very supportive, baring in mind I don’t think I’d taken more than perhaps one day off in the previous year unless by illness. On top of the booze I cut out all or most of the bad things for me (you know the sort, all the tasty enjoyable things you really like) and tried to eat really healthily. I always cook as much fresh food as I can and eat lots of vegetables, but now I was making Hairy Dieters dishes and such, cutting out fats, plus upping my walking much to the dogs delight. I used an app to track progress and was pretty much always under my daily intake targets, genuinely determined to make a go of it.

Predictably I shed around 3lbs in as many days, smiling to myself as I got off the scales that day, all my self-sacrifice was worth it. Then, it stopped….

Some times after a couple of days I lost half a pound or so, other times I had done particularly well on the food, drink and exercise front and had somehow managed to put weight on, it was bizarre. The food and walking alone should really have seen some results I thought considering my size, but no beer too, the source of all the evil if facts are to be believed? I had gone from drinking out every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, not to excess but a decent amount, plus a few bottles at home every other day of the week and was massively disappointed by the results I was seeing.


*Artists impression of the results

Despite this though I continued and went through the full month, taking around twenty or so days off. I lost around 7lbs in that time, which is still good, normally at about 1lb per week, a steady decline which I am sure is best all round (no pun intended).

I’ve also managed to stick with it up to now too, albeit not so strictly. Chubvember long forgotten and now well into the season of goodwill and Christmas beer (Fatcember) it will be tougher still, but for now at least I feel I can carry on and shed a few more pounds and I’m now another couple of pounds lighter. I feel healthier, my bones don’t creak so much and my dodgy knees are definitely benefitting from more use, carrying less bulk.

The other upside of course is that I’m finding I like a break in taking the odd day off having bevvy, it isn’t really a struggle and the next beer tastes SO much better.

To summarise, what does all this prove, nothing. There’s no science to any of this and I’m certainly not going to try and tell you all that drinking alcohol every day is fine and harmless because of course it isn’t in some circumstances. Neither am I saying that drinking beer won’t make you put on weight, it might, especially when done to excess.

What think I am trying to say though is this, beer alone is not the main culprit as some sources would have you believe, or at least I can safely say at least not for me. It is all a matter of balance. Make your own choices, for you, when YOU want to and only then will YOU be happy with the results and be able to feel whatever sacrifices you made were worth it.

So with that, you can stick “Drynuary”, or whatever the next daft title that some bloody doom-monger comes up with to justify yet another form of enforced abstinence where the sun don’t shine!

Cheers and a Merry Bleedin’ Christmas to you all!

UPDATE: My good friend Claire Knight ( @krider2010 ) who manages to combine being a keen foodie and lover of great beer, with a hard fitness regime to competition level was compelled to write a very complimentary and informative post over on her own fitness and nutrition blog Deskbound Girevik. It’s called “Moderation Is Key” and can be found following the previous link. Please give it a read, comment and give Claire a follow too :)

Thanks Claire!