National Winter Ales Festival 2012

It’s National Winter Ales Festival time again and time to indulge in all it has to offer along with some of the other great ale houses in Manchester.

No visit to Manchester would be complete without a trip to The Marble Arch home to the always impressive Marble Brewery, I arrived at 12:30 to find it already a bustle of brewers, trade folk and beer lovers of all kinds. I started with a Marble Port Stout, a little dark and heavy at 4.7% for an opener perhaps but the title sucked me in. No mistakes here it’s rich, succulent and does exactly what it says on the tin, good call.

As I was at the bar I noticed one of the brewers handing out samples of a new beer, which he then proceeded to circulate with around the pub with glasses of dark delight, checking the posters on the wall I could see it was the 1888 Ginger Stout and had only been launched at 12pm that very day. I opted for the obligatory taster (of course, free beer tastes best) before ordering a bottle to share with Steve from Aletalk.

Not surprisingly it’s a great beer and the ginger works really well in the stout. There were a few folks giving out WOW’s etc “this is really heavy on the ginger”, nonsense, the ginger is really subtle in the background of what is a really chocolatey stout. It reminded me of a good quality Belgian chocolate interlaced with stem ginger. I really wish I’d bought a bottle to taste again at home. 😦

No time to cry over missed beer opportunities, it was onward and upwards with another Marble classic in the remaking Lagonda Trial No6. So named I believe as the are trialling new hop varieties in the original recipe, if this is a trial I say make it, it tastes ace!! Last call to the bar before I hit the fest courtesy of the back of a kindly brewers van was back to the Port Stout, I know I should have tried another but hey, I liked it.

So I finally arrive courtesy of my Chauffeur(ette) driven limo and am personally welcomed to the festival by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, local combo Elbow playing an acoustic version of “On a day like this” in the background, Guy Garvie whipping the crowd into a frenzy to announce my arrival, or was that just too many beers at Marble??? 😉 Anyways I was in and despite well laid pans for a steady start I launched myself straight into a Hawkshead NZPA. I’d tried a very small sample of this New Zealand hopped beauty on a visit to the Hawkshead beer house accompanied by head brewer Matt, this time I got to savour it in all it’s glory, definitely up there with the best of 2011.

Magic Rock were next on my to find list, Rapture and another massive hit for me from 2011. I have had loads over the year from the bottle, but only once on cask back at the North Bar launch. Cracking balance red all, loads of malt but with the ever presence Magic Rock hop kick, bloody marvellous.

Time to explore something new in the form of Okells “Aile” (Smoked Porter), this was decent enough but not quite up there with some beers I’ve had from them. Pleasantly smoky as the name suggests, but lacking just a little something which could have been the massive hops from the previous Rapture encounter. Continuing on the dark side I went for another Hawkshead beer and one of their classics, Brodies Prime, rich dark and malty as a malty thing. I like, loads..

Another newbie for me was Windsor and Eton Conquerer Black IPA, a real class act here and a perfect black IPA one of my favourites on the day and a must revisit beer/brewery. Whilst in the vicinity I stumbled across another old favourite Thornbridge Sequoia, this is an American amber ale, quite sweet and fruity but really drinkable, a nice change from the black stuff.

After a long discussion on the subject of Viven Imperial IPA with GroveBrewBri, we took a short detour to the foreign section in search of it’s stablemate Troubadour Magma. Very similar to Viven a real tropical fruit aroma and flavourfest. Note to self: “You must try these beers side by side”. In fact we should have done there and then as both are on offer, if you’re reading this prior to a visit go for it and report back, PLEASE!

Whilst we were there I was alerted to another beer by Paul from Source Deli, this was a German weiss, Andechser Weißbier Hell. It’s really light fruity and refreshing with a delicious clove spice finish, an absolute perfect mouth freshener after all the darks and high abv ales. Incidentally I had their Christmas Doppelbock back on Christmas day, it was superb and should be on your next years Christmas beer shopping list.

As you can imagine things were now getting serious, several hours of beer was taking it’s toll so what I really needed was something light, a nice session beer perhaps, absolutely NOT. It was Impy stout time and as I’d spent a good portion of the day with their head brewer Karl, I opted for a Liverpool Organic Brewery Imperial Russian Stout a first for me I have to say and if this is anything to go by a great brewery. The IPS is rich and dark as you’d expect, loads of coffee and chocolate but retains a nice fresh hop aftertaste that some others lack, check it out.

Last call was upon us, after all we still had the fabulous Port Street Beer House to visit before the train, I opted for a beer I’d heard loads about from another great Cumbrian Brewery Coniston. This was their rather delicious No9 Barley Wine, a real beer to savour, sweet, fruity and very smooth with a lovely warm feel to it that really warms your cockles. I’d love to revisit this again with a big fat cheese board and munch my way through it testing as I went.

So that was it, visit over and time head for Port Street Beer House where in short I ended the day in stark contrast the cask ales of the day I opted for three examples of keg, Odell‘s Red Stout which was a little disappointing if I’m honest, Maui Ginger Saison which wasn’t and finished on a stinker with Stone Brewing’s Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale, lovely.. Sadly the I missed Magic Rock’s Bearded Lady which was also in attendance, but time was against me and I’d missed her after being dazzled like a deer in headlights by the beery delights on offer.

A really great day was had by all, or by me at least with some time beer and equally fine folks. There are sooo many beers that I would like to have tried but didn’t because of this and that, but they are there for the next time. The full British beer list is here if you are still going along by the time you read this, if you get to try any I’ve mentioned let me know what you think.