Tastings School - Northern exposure

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Northern exposure

Prosaic images of England’s north west – rain, flat caps, black pudding, Vimto, hot-pot, meat-and-potato pies – are easy to bring to mind but are evidence of lazy thinking. Exploration of the north west reveals a multifaceted cultural landscape proud of its industrial powerhouse glory years, home to world-influencing creativity and possessed of a tattyfilarious sense of humour (especially when Yorkshire is mentioned).

For our purposes the north west counts as Cheshire, Merseyside and Lancashire. Cumbria, where new breweries are appearing with every blink of the eye, is sadly excluded as it has already benefited from its own BotW feature. Also omitted are the cities of Liverpool and Manchester as they qualify for their own city features (though we have included their breweries in the listings here).

We hear a lot about Yorkshire and its resplendent virtues – generally from Yorkshire people, whether they’ve been asked or not – but a visitor from Mars, as the cliché goes, would point out the abundant similarities rather than differences between the north western counties and Yorkshire (“the Texas of Britain”) to the east.

And that includes a fondness for the odd pint.

If Yorkshire’s characteristic beer taste can be summarised as a pint of Tetley’s – nut brown malty, moderately bitter with some ephemeral rich fruit flavours. By comparison, the Lancastrian equivalent would be a shade or two lighter with a more noticeable lingering bitterness and dryness. Thwaites Original Bitter, for instance.

The Blackburn brewery Thwaites can trace its roots to 1807 when the original Daniel Thwaites first wielded a malt shovel. His son Daniel Thwaites II nurtured and expanded the company. A descendent of the Thwaites, Mr John Yerburgh is company president today. Thwaites beers are supplied to an estate of 400, a level of trade that puts them in the premier league of regional brewers. Fans of Russian imperial stouts, double IPAs and any other flavourful slapsaround- the-face really should be looking elsewhere – the Thwaites brewing philosophy is historically linked to the thirst-quenching requirements of the region’s legions of textile workers. Thwaites’ large beer brand portfolio, covering cask-conditioned, keg, bottles, cans and European licensed brews, contains some interesting nooks and crannies.

Brewed in 2007 for the company’s bi-centenary cask ale Wainwright (4.1% ABV) is described as “a refreshing straw-coloured beer with soft fruit flavours and a hint of sweetness from the fine malt.” It has been so popular it has been promoted from seasonal to year-round production. Pumpclips carry the deadpan tagline “an exquisitely lovely ale.” Deeper in the portfolio are König Ludwig Weiss Bier, König Ludwig Dunkel and Kaltenberg Hell, all brewed under license from Schloßbrauerei Kaltenberg in Bavaria. Here, purists will be kneejerking in reaction to the term “brewed under license” equating it to a form of fraud. Nonetheless, open-minded inquiry in the form of the tastebud test, demonstrates these beers are rather good. Kaltenburg Hell in particular, shames more familiar lager brands with an excellent biscuity cereal malt character and grassy lager hops.

Lancaster, the county town of Lancashire, lies on the River Lune in the north of the county. The name ‘Lancaster’ originated as ‘Roman fort on the River Lune.’ An 11th century Norman castle now occupies the Roman site. The castle is still home to a Crown Court and a prison. A mile away is the Lancaster Brewery – an ambitious three year old micro that suffered a firey setback in its early days.

Director Matt Jackson (who had previously put the Lancaster’s Water Witch pub firmly on the beer map) explains: “We wanted to open ‘the brewery Lancaster hasn’t got.’ We didn’t actually know anything about brewing so we installed Keith Bott of Titanic Brewery as brewing director. He came in to help us with recipes and the set-up. In May 2005 we started brewing. We had two beers at the time – Lancaster Duchy was our standard bitter at 3.9% ABV, and then we had J.S.B.

at 4.3%. We got a very good initial reaction when the brewery was clean and new and fresh, there was lots of enthusiasm.” Unfortunately, five months in, disaster struck. The adjacent business, a tyre recycling plant, suffered a devastating fire that badly affected the infrastructure of the brewery. “Fortunately it inspired a successful beer: Flaming Nora.” The brewery struggled on, unsure if use of the building could continue. By the autumn of 2007 a new lease was negotiated and it was decided the brewery would stay. New investment was found and the brewery redesigned and restructured. The brewery was re-launched in March 2008 and now has new pumpclip artwork. The brewery’s five key beers have been renamed Blonde, Red, Dark, Amber, Slate and Black. C2I Investments, which owns the brewery also owns the Sun Hotel and Bar in Lancaster and the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel in Barrow-in-Furness where the beers can always be found.

Between Blackpool and Preston (the town where the term “teetotal” was invented) lies the village of Little Eccleston. In it is the Cartford Country Inn & Hotel. It is on the Fylde coastal plain, a region that could body-double for the Netherlands were it not for distant hills. At the rear in an outbuilding is the Hart Brewery owned by John Smith, which we are told is not a false name although there was, as we shall see, a time when he could have put one to good use. John, a trim 52 year old, is keen to tell his story.

“I used to work for British Nuclear Fuels Limited and I was a keen home-brewer, I always wanted to know more. I had half a year of brewing at home after the council gave me permission and Hart brewery has been around for 14 years.” So far, so familiar – a homebrewer gives up his day job to brew full-time. As a pioneer, operating at a time when ‘microbrewery’ was an obscure term mainly confined to the United States, John encountered bureaucratic bafflement at his entrepreneurship.

“I was brewing on home-brew kit, one barrel length, and I was selling to friends at 70p a pint and it was giving me the confidence to go on. I wanted to do it properly and I went to Customs and Excise for information but they just laughed at me, snubbed me. So I carried on because they didn’t seem interested. I was also importing grape-juice and making sparkling wine.” “I carried on but two C.I.D. officers came to order a nine gallon cask for a party and I asked ‘do you want some wine?’, they said ‘what do you mean wine?’ I opened a door and there was 1500 bottles.

They went away saying they’d come back with the money.

“They came back in two Black Marias with Customs and Excise and smashed down the doors and turned everything over! They actually did me a favour – I was looking to concentrating on brewing because the heat and steam was killing the wine.

They put all the wine in a skip – which they paid for!

“It went to court and I got done for £3,500. When we came out of the court the Customs Officer that did me put his arm around me and said ‘come with me, I’m taking you somewhere.’ His plan was ‘I’m going to get him for my local pub.’ He got me an interview with the old landlord of the Cartford Inn. It went on from there, he set me up, pulled a lot of strings and got me on my feet.” The Cartford Inn for many years was firmly in the category hard-core real ale pub with as many as nine handpumps in use but by 2007 the owners were looking to retire and the future of the brewery looked uncertain. “The day before they went, I cried, I thought ‘it’s finished’, it was like the end of the world. At first the new owners didn’t want to know.

They had three or four Theakstons on, but they weren’t selling, they were pouring them down the drain. Then they put three of mine on and realised people were coming for it! It’s great, it’s lifted me and I’ve got my passion back!” The presentation of John’s beers has not been without controversy in the world of beer blogs – http://tinyurl.com/4a39ca – a commentator succinctly summarised the artwork: “he paid some Hobbit fan a tenner to draw his wank fantasy on a pumpclip.” But John is upbeat: “I emailed him back and called him ‘a big southern Jessie,’ but it’s all publicity,my website got a lot of extra hits.” Hart brewery’s beers reflect Smith’s interest in hops and he declares the fragrant hoppy beers by the Rooster Brewery of Yorkshire as an influence. BotW’s sampling of Ice Maiden revealed less blatant, possibly more tantalising use of herbal, citrussy American hops. Hart beers are available in Lancashire and are also distributed through the Society of Independent Brewers Direct Delivery Scheme.

In Greater Manchester, but historically in the county of Cheshire, is the 160-year-old regional brewer Robinsons, which owns pubs over a wide area (including the Hartleys estate in the north of the region). Like Thwaites, Robinsons’ brewing philosophy is intertwined with the north west’s industrial history. Standing out in the range of beers is Old Tom at 8.5% – a hefty strong ale packed with malty coffee, chocolate and liquorice flavours laced with dark fruit Christmas cake richness. Bottled Old Tom is widely distributed and exported but the supercomplex cask-conditioned draught version should be a top priority for visitors to the north west. In recent years the north west, like the rest of Britain, has seen microbreweries pop up almost overnight, like mushrooms in humid late summer. Unfortunately, lack of space prevents an in-depth appraisal of all of them. Here are some that caught the eye of BotW: CHESHIRE Northern Brewing of Northwich chooses to emblazon its beers with names and label designs evoking the era of Northern Soul. In the 60s and 70s countless northerners danced the night away to the beats of American soul and rhythm and blues. The actual records were objects of reverance and to this day command high prices. The movement was closely associated with the Mods and their vivid visual signature is reflected here. Look out for Two Tone Special, a 4.7% ABV stout with a strong chocolate and black coffee flavour.

The WC Brewery of Chester also utilises some bold imagery to sell its beers. As the name of the brewery may hint, an obsession with micturition is evident. If it still hasn’t clicked some beer names may help – IP Ale, Ivana Tinkle, Golden Cascade, Gypsy’s Kiss and Take a Leek.

Third in our Cheshire trio is Stationhouse Brewery, owned by Barrie and Hazel Davidson. The brewery is located at Lady Heyes Craft and Antique Centre, Frodsham. A cask wheat beer Lamastide (5% ABV) gained many favourable reviews at the 2007 Great British Beer Festival. Buzzin’ won bronze in the best bitter category at the same event.

MERSEYSIDE The George Wright Brewing Company has expanded rapidly since its commercial debut in 2003 – from two and a half barrel to 25 barrel capacity. Pipe Dream won silver in the best bitter category at the 2007 GBBF.

LANCASHIRE Moorhouses of Burnley isn’t really a micro but a longstanding independent with a small chain of six pubs.

For many years the brewery produced Hop Bitters – beers of no more than 2% ABV served in Temperance bars in the north west region. By the late 1970s the craft brewing renaissance was slowly gathering pace.

Moorhouses changed hands and the new owners were keen to be part of the world of ‘real ale.’ Times were turbulent but Moorhouses battled on.

Pendle Witches Brew arrived in the mid-80s and remains a core brand. It is a soft-on-the-palate bitter with a malt character reminiscent of a Vienna lager or German bock. Black Cat is a dark mild of 3.4%, a traditional thirst-quencher firmly challenging the fallacy ‘all dark beers are heavy.’.

The breweries
3 RIVERS BREWERY
Stockport, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)161 477 3333
www.3riversbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: GMT 3.8%
ALLGATES BREWERY
Wigan, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1942 234 976
www.allgatesbrewery.com
Choice beer: Bottoms Up 4.2%
BANK TOP BREWERY LTD
Bolton, Greater Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)1204 595 800
www.banktopbrewery.com
Choice beer: Dark Mild 4%
BEARTOWN BREWERY LTD
Congleton, Cheshire
www.beartownbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Bear Ass 4%
THE BOGGART HOLE CLOUGH BREWING
COMPANY
Clough Road, Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 277 9666
www.boggart-brewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Waterloo Sunset 5%
BOROUGH ARMS BREWERY
Crewe, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)1270 254 999
Choice beer: Full Moon 4.4%
THE BOWLAND BREWERY
Clitheroe, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1200 428 825
www.bowlandbrewery.com
Choice beer: Dragon 4.2%
BRIMSTAGE BREWING CO LTD
Wirral, Merseyside
Tel: +44 (0)151 342 1181
www.brimstagebrewery.com
Choice beer: Trappers Hat Bitter 3.8%
BRYSONS OF LANCASTER (BREWERS) LTD
Morecambe, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1524 39481
www.brysonsbrews.co.uk
Choice beer: Lancashire Bitter 3.8%
ROBERT CAIN & CO LTD
Stanhope Street, Liverpool
Tel: +44 (0)151 709 8734
www.cains.co.uk
Choice beer: 2008 5%
CAMBRINUS CRAFT BREWERY
Prescot, Merseyside
Tel: +44 (0)151 546 2226
Choice beer: Herald 3.7%
THE COACH HOUSE BREWING COMPANY LTD
Warrington, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)1925 232800
www.coach-house-brewing.co.uk
Choice beer: Innkeeper’s Special
Reserve 4.5%
The breweries
DUNHAM MASSEY BREWING
COMPANY?
Altrincham, Greater Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 929 0663
www.dunhammasseybrewing.co.uk
Choice beer: Dunham Massey
Deer Beer 4.5%
FUZZY DUCK BREWERY
Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)79 0434 3729
www.fuzzyduckbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Pheasant Plucker 4.2%
GREENFIELD REAL ALE BREWERY LTD
Oldham, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1457 879 789
www.greenfieldrealale.co.uk
Choice beer: Brassed Off 4.4%
GRINDLETON BREWHOUSE LTD
Clitheroe, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1200 444 808
www.grindletonbrewhouse.co.uk
Choice beer: Man Down 6%
HART BREWERY LTD
Preston, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1995 671 686
www.hartbreweryltd.co.uk
Choice beer: Dishie Debbie 4%
HIGSON’S BREWERY LTD
Atlas Road, Liverpool
Tel: +44 (0)151 922 5640
www.higsonsbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Bitter 4.1%
JOSEPH HOLT LTD
Empire Street, Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 834 3285
www.joseph-holt.com
Choice beer: Mild 3.2%
HORNBEAM BREWERY
Denton, Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 320 5627
www.hornbeambrewery.com
Choice beer: Top Hop 4.2%
HOPSTAR BREWERY
Darwen, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1254 703 389
Choice beer: Spinning Jenny 4%
HYDES’ BREWERY LTD
Moss Lane West, Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 226 1317
www.hydesbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Owd Oak 3.5%
LANCASTER BREWERY COMPANY
LIMITED
Lancaster, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1524 848 537
www.lancasterbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Duchy 3.9%
JW LEES & CO (BREWERS) LTD
Middleton, Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 643 2487
www.jwlees.co.uk
Choice beer: Moonraker 7.5%
LEYDEN BREWING LTD
Bury, Greater Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 764 6680
www.leydenbrewery.com
Choice beer: Light Brigade 4.2%
MARBLE BEERS LTD
Rochdale Road, Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 819 2694
www.marblebeers.co.uk
Choice beer: Manchester Bitter 4.2%
MAYFLOWER BREWERY
Wigan, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1257 400 605
www.mayflowerbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Wigan Bier 4.2%
MOONSTONE BREWERY
Burnley, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1282 830 909
www.moonstonebrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Tigers Eye 3.8%
MOORHOUSE’S BREWERY
(BURNLEY) LTD
Burnley, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1282 422 864
www.moorhouses.co.uk
Choice beer: Black Cat 3.4%
NORTHERN BREWING LTD
Northwich, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)1606 301 000
www.norbrew.co.uk
Choice beer: ’45 4.5%
OWL BREWING CO LTD
Oldham, Greater Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)1706 840 356
www.owlbrew.co.uk
Choice beer: Snowbird 4.1%
PICTISH BREWING CO LTD
Rochdale, Greater Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)1706 522 227
www.pictish-brewing.co.uk
Choice beer: Celtic Warrior 4.2%
RED ROSE BREWERY
Blackburn, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1254 877 373
www.redrosebrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Bowley Beast 3.7%
FREDERIC ROBINSON LTD
Stockport, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)161 612 4061
www.frederic-robinson.com
Choice beer: Double Hop 5%
SADDLEWORTH BREWERY
Oldham, Greater Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)1457 820 902
Choice beer: More 3.8%
SHAW’S BREWERY
Dukinfield, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)161 330 5471
Choice beer: IPA 4.8%
SOUTHPORT BREWERY
Southport, Merseyside
Tel: +44 (0)77 4838 7652
Choice beer: Natterjack 4.3%
SPITTING FEATHERS BREWERY
Chester, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)1244 332 052
www.spittingfeathers.org
Choice beer: Thirstquencher 3.9%
STATIONHOUSE BREWERY
Frodsham, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)1928 787 917
www.stationhousebrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Ode 2 Joy 4.1%
STORM BREWING COMPANY LTD
Macclesfield, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)1625 431 234
Choice beer: Silk of Amnesia 4.7%
THREE B’S BREWERY
Blackburn, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1254 207 686
www.threebsbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Stoker’s Slake 3.6%
DANIEL THWAITES PLC
Blackburn, Lancashire
Tel: +44 (0)1254 686 868
www.thwaites.co.uk
Choice beer: Original 3.6%
WAPPING BEERS LTD
Wapping, Liverpool
Tel: +44 (0)151 709 3116
Choice beer: Stout 5%
WC BREWERY LTD
Chester, Cheshire
www.wcbrewery.com
Choice beer: Gypsy’s Kiss 4.1%
WEETWOOD ALES LTD
Tarporley, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)1829 752 377
www.weetwoodales.co.uk
Choice beer: Cheshire Cat 4%
WOODLANDS BREWING COMPANY
Nantwich, Cheshire
Tel: +44 (0)1270 620 101
www.woodlandsbrewery.co.uk
Choice beer: Midnight Stout 4.4%
GEORGE WRIGHT BREWING
COMPANY
Rainford, St Helens
Tel: +44 (0)1744 886 686
www.georgewrightbrewing.co.uk
Choice beer: Longboat 3.9%