As the trip started, on the train from Euston, in the month of February, I will detail the Manchester visit, for Cloudwater’s Family & Friends, in this month’s blog.
After checking in, The Editor and I started at The Crown & Kettle, which had a superb Buxton IPA on cask. A wonderful Burning Sky Arise, again on cask, at The Smithfield Tavern, was followed by The Marble Arch with their famous Pint beer being dispensed in the same fashion.
Superb beers in great condition in wonderful local pubs. Finally, we ended in Cafe Beermoth, which was hosting a Bellwoods TTO. This Toronto brewery produces excellent beers, and, spoiler alert, one of them was ultimately to prove Beer of the Festival. However, although it is a great bar, Cafe Beermoth could have been a craft-bar in London, or, indeed, anywhere in the developed world and so lacked the charming difference of earlier in the evening.
Friday morning, we were late and yet surprisingly close to the front of the queue. Once in, there seemed vastly more glasses than people outside and punters are almost never late for a pre-paid, unlimited pour festival. It soon became apparent that less than half the tickets had been sold.
Whilst this is not sustainable for the organiser, it meant for a fantastic experience for the festival-goer, with no crowds, waiting nor queues. For the most sought after brewers, Hill Farmstead, Monkfish, Other Half, Trillium and The Veil, there was a token system so that everybody would get some.
This seemed a very good idea, but wasn’t really tested, given the limited tickets sold. Modern Times bourbon BA imperial stout Modem Tones, De Garde spontaneous wild ales, J Wakefield Space Oddity, a Denali dry-hopped Berliner Weisse, Mikkeller Spontan, Trillium IPA, Other Half DIPA, but the undoubted beer of the festival was the aforementioned Bellwood’s Jelly King Tangerine, a dry-hopped sour that absolutely screamed of fruit.
Afterwards, we spent the afternoon in the Briton’s Protection, a lovely old-fashioned pub 5 minutes walk from the venue. Buxton, again, and a superb Cloudwater Burning Sky collab Reassuring Trial IPA, both on cask. The evening was spent in Refectory, Northern Monk’s bar and Cafe Beermoth again (not sure why).
Saturday will go down as a day of infamy, in the beer scene. I hadn’t checked any media, mainstream nor social, before meeting the Editor, for breakfast, at around 07:45. His expression was one of complete shock, and, when he asked, “Have you heard the news?” I assumed that there had been a natural disaster, terror attack or North Korea had launched a missile!
In fact, he told me that the Festival has been cancelled! Social Media said that the Council had turned up at the evening session, presumably after noise complaints from local residents, and realised that there was no alcohol licence. Authorities rarely stop an event, correctly understanding that evicting angry, drunk punters is a recipe for trouble.
However, the Council had made it abundantly clear that the event was not to continue on Saturday, with the organisers facing a large fine, and possibly jail time, if they did. The agents renting the venue had apparently told Cloudwater that it had a full licence, but it is inexcusable not to get that in writing.
Rumours and counter rumours swirled as people decided whether to travel or take refunds. As we were pot-committed, with pre-paid hotels and train tickets, we weren’t going anywhere. After walking down to the venue, and seeing some unfortunate punters turn up unaware of any problems, we popped over to Albert’s Schoss, for a couple of Czech lagers and to re-group.
The organisers maintained that the present venue was definitely out, and had therefore packed up and loaded the Lorries, but they were looking at alternatives, and the plan seemed to be one massive session with both morning and afternoon combined. It seemed absurd that any venue with a licence would still be free at the last minute on Saturday, far and away the most popular day for weddings, etc.
Moreover, there would have been no pre-planning at a new venue and logistics mistakes would be made. We both thought the one-session idea particularly stupid, full of queues which they would “justify” by saying that we were there for eight or nine hours. It was agreed that we would only go back to the original venue or take a refund.
We went back to Upper Campfield at about 13:00 and after a few minutes chatting to brewers, it was announced that they had got permission to carry on and were to start unloading the Lorries. We decamped to the nearby Briton’s Protection to await imminent confirmation. After 45 minutes the official announcement came that the evening session would be largely unaffected whilst the morning would be reduced to just three hours, but with a pro rata refund on our tickets.
One can gripe that the decision to unpack cost us a full-length session but I suspect that it was necessary to convince the Council that Cloudwater were taking it seriously and accepting responsibility.
Having been so close, we were near the front of the queue to get in and were OK, but, because Saturday had sold out, it took almost 15 minutes to get everyone in, which is bad at the best of times, but dreadful when the session had already been cut to three hours. Inside, it was much busier but not disastrously so: however the truncated time meant that the Guaranteed Pour system didn’t work, which is as a shame as it is a good idea.
The main complaint, rather than the licensing fiasco was that, as Friday hadn’t sold out, they kept beers on and didn’t rotate. This is completely unacceptable penny-pinching as the tickets had been sold on that basis, which meant people like ourselves who had bought more than one session ended up drinking many of the same beers again.
Overall it was a fantastic trip and I loved the Manchester pubs, and cask most of all. The Festival itself was a Curate’s Egg: fantastic beers and Friday morning, as half-full, was unbelievable, but the licensing was a rookie mistake and the beers should have been rotated.
A very good article from Will Hawkes on the much-missed London Beer City https://www.willhawkes.net/blog/2019/2/7/how-i-ended-up-running-a-beer-week-by-mistake. He pitched the idea at LBA in June 2014, two months before the inaugural event. Thanks again for all his hard work, and it was very sad to see it finish in 2017, after four great years.
A few events at Mikkeller Bar, which appears to have cut its prices, so that they are now merely expensive, rather than ludicrous, especially as the location is as central as it gets. Angry Chair TTO with 3 Little Birds Berliner Weissse, Mango Gose, El Cicuy, a Bourbon BA Russian Imperial Stout with cinnamon and vanilla, Popinski, another Russian imperial, this time with peanut butter and marshmallow and Simple Math, an imp stout with cinnamon, coconut and coffee. Tired Hands TTO, which was obviously good, as I have managed to lose all my notes!
Craft Beer Rising was, as normal, a strange Trade Show, in which some, excellent independent beer, was interspersed with dreadful faux-craft brands from the macros. Timmy Taylor’s landlord on cask, opposite the American import stand, including Foolproof’s The Grotto IPA, Fifty Fifty West Coast Haze IPA and New Holland Dragon’s Milk imperial stout, provided a great contrast and attracted the crowds. The Siren CBR after-party at The Old Fountain saw Soundwave, a Suspended and the Tropical Chocolate Cake, all on cask. No biggie (geddit?) on keg continued the West Coast IPA theme.
In brief news, Brouwerih de Molen is now part of Swinkels Family Brewers and RateBeer fully acquired by AB InBev, which immediately renders it useless.
And onto March, which will all be about some shocking news…
Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.