A busy conference programme kept a lid on my beer explorations for the first few days of my visit to Manchester last week. I was fortunate, however, to have a nice little Marston's house on my doorstep for those occasions where I had a chance to nip out for a swift one. The Bull's Head is just across from the back door of Piccadilly station and, I'm told, was a Burtonwood property until very recently. It's slightly shabby and lived-in, but nice for all that. Obviously enough the Marston's brand portfolio was well represented at the taps. The first one that caught my eye was Banks's Original: mostly because of a Brummie college friend who I remember telling me years ago that where she was from everyone drank this stuff called Banks's and it was "voy-yil". So that was pint number one, and it took several more before I became accustomed to sparklerisation: the look and feel of the beer is just too close to nitro for comfort. And yes, I know how irrational that is. Back to the Banks's: it's a strikingly sweet dark amber beer with an almost saccharine foretaste. This fades to a graininess full of chewy crystal malt. I don't think I'd go so far as describing it as vile, but it's just a bit too thin and sugary for my liking.
Wychwood is a recent addition to the Marston's range and here they had the excruciatingly-named Wizard's Staff (pumpclip featuring a wizard flashing three shocked witches -- ugh!) on. Despite the branding it's really rather good: full bodied yet crisp and refreshing with a stimulating sparkle to it. The flavour is very hop-driven but has an underlying bubblegum sweetness.
A couple of Jennings beers (Marston's again) came and went over the days of my residence at The Bull's Head. Cumberland Ale is a fairly unexciting dark golden ale. It's mostly malt in here, but with a light hoppy nose and perhaps a touch of white pepper spice. My notes make it sound more interesting than it actually is: one of those beers that makes you dig deep for a description. Hate that. The other one from this brewery was Honey Bole: a bright yellow beer which took ages to clear. Again there's not a whole lot going on with it. It's a bit bitter and a bit dry and possibly more of that pepper, but nondescript otherwise and certainly totally lacking in honey.
Also handy for the conference was the Lass o' Gowrie, an odd little pub with bags of character plus, inexplicably, a fine collection of vintage video games and a wall-mounted tableau displaying the three generations of Sinclair Spectrum. Odd. My first one here on Tuesday night was Mild At Heart by Allgate's. It's surprisingly bitter in a very English, metallic sort of way but with a good dark roasted flavour underneath. I found it a little sharp, to the point of being almost gastric, but I suspect that has more to do with the state of the barrel than the beer itself. It disappeared from the bar soon after.
When I was kicking about on my own on Friday morning, waiting for Mrs Beer Nut's arrival, I followed Tandleman's recommendation to call in to MicroBar in the Arndale Food Hall. It's a lovely little set-up with a variety of cask beers, plus a big bottled range, including several interesting ones from BrewDog. Not wanting to push the boat out too far this early, I opted for some Zeitgeist, a dark lager I'd been curious about since its launch in a blaze of glory last year. I'm struggling to find a better description than spot-on perfect. It's not too fizzy and kicks off with a beautiful charcoal dryness and then follows it up with some sumptuous caramel and chocolate notes which last ages. It's simple yet complex and likely works just as well cold from the bottle as it does savoured from a glass: move over Brooklyn Lager, there's a new super-flexible beer in town.
What happen with Tandleman the evening previous will be recounted next. There was beer involved.
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