30 July 2018

Crashing the party

Back in February I booked a one-nighter in Manchester on a whim and a hotel voucher. I didn't realise at the time that the dates in early July would be at the end of 2018's Manchester Beer Week, nor that there would be a summer heatwave, nor that England would be playing in the quarter finals of the World Cup. Suffice it to say, when we rolled into Piccadilly on the Saturday morning, Manchester was in a good mood.

The first stop was back along the tracks a bit, to Beer Nouveau. This railway arch brewery had closed off the laneway outside and invited in a dozen or so guest brewers to pour beer. We were there early enough to have free pick of the offerings and I began by paying my respects to the house, who had deferentially tucked their bar into the far corner of the brewery.

From the blackboard, Ancient Egyptian Ale caught my eye. I'm assuming it's a recreation of what it says, using honey and whatnot, though I don't have any specifics. What I got was 4.1% ABV, the muddy brown colour of the Nile in flood, and tasted... infected. It was a glass of pure dregs: thick and bitty with heavy yeast flavours. There was also a strong phenolic TCP off-flavour and a vinegary twang, a little like in a Flanders Red. I'm guessing hops didn't feature in the recipe. I'm all for experimental brewing and how educational it can be, but sometimes the end result will just taste like a beer that's gone spectacularly off, as this did.

The other indoor bar was serving Origami beers, a client brewer that works on Beer Nouveau's kit. The missus opted for their raspberry wheat beer, Valley Fold, as her opener. This 5.3% ABV brown-red job was served on cask and showed lots of fresh and zingy raspberry in the aroma. The flavour took an artificial turn, coming across with wafts of perfume and ice cream sauce. That's set on a body too thin to counteract it, and I found it became tongue-coatingly cloying after just one sip. She liked it; but I was still searching for a beer I'd like.

Thirst Class Ale had their bar just opposite where we were sitting. I was intrigued by Puff Daddy Mild, a 3.5% ABV dark mild with the addition of... Sugar Puffs. Unsurprisingly, it's sweet, with lots of wholesome chocolate, like you might find in a milk stout. A sharper roast kicks in on the end helping to balance it, but doing nothing to relieve the impression that this is a stout not a mild. While tasty and fun, it misses the easy-going drinkability of proper mild, though that's about the only thing I can criticise it for. Mild is probably best left out of the weird-ingredients trend dominating the speciality beer market at the moment.

Another wheat-based drink for the lady, Thirst Class's Thai Wheat. This was brewed with lemongrass, ginger and coriander and presented a bright hazy yellow. I've never encountered a lemongrass beer that smelled so lemony, with all the wholesome bitterness of homemade old-style lemonade. The flavour focuses more on the ginger, bringing a real heat to the foretaste, plus a serious savoury seasoning from the herbs. The lemon comes back at the end, just as real as in the aroma. This one really delivers on everything promised and is a damn refreshing witbier to boot.

She went to Blackjack's bar after that, for their Dry-Hopped Sour: Amarillo. This was a melancholy yellow with a hint of beige and smelled tropical but with a twang of nasty vinegar. The flavour piles in the tart fruit: grapefruit and lime in particular, and then there's an alkaline sharpness but thankfully no vinegar. At only 4.3% ABV the whole package is a refreshing and invigorating one, with only that slightly off-putting edge on the aroma to complain about.

Co-sponsor of the event was Brooklyn Brewery, which also had a bar, and I felt obliged to try something from them. This took the form of a glass of Scorcher, the summer IPA. 4.5% ABV is light by the American standard for this sort of thing, and I was expecting something zesty and refreshing. Alas what I got was thick and sweet, with a sharp grapefruit foretaste and an earthy Cascade finish set on an almost toffee-ish malt base. I can appreciate its nod towards '90s-vintage US IPA, but it wasn't what I expected or needed at that moment in the afternoon.

A second fruited wheat beer came to the table in the form of Outstanding's Strawberry Wit. This was thick and dark and foamy, though a lightweight at 4.3% ABV. Real strawberries come out in the aroma, ripe to the point of pungency. The flavour is jammy with lots and lots of strawberry but also a slight funky twang on the end. I'm told the brewery were reluctant to sell it, not being entirely happy with how it turned out, but it went down well at our table.

I was back at the house bar to try Victorian Protein Shake, the creation of fellow blogger Katie. This is a tongue-in-cheek Brettanomyces-fermented New England IPA, using heritage Chevallier barley. It's 6.4% ABV and dark brown in colour. The flavour is dry and musty to begin with, like old wood and leather. This is then lightened by a fun peppery spicing, and a mix of black-tea tannins and rich roasted coffee. Whatever New England characteristics it was supposed to have didn't survive the process, but it works great as a funky Orval-like sipping ale. A half was plenty, mind.

With time starting to run short it was Hawkshead next, and Here She Gose. The recipe includes peaches but to me it tasted of watermelon, mixing that lush sweetness with a tang of margarita salt. It does turn a little towards Jolly Ranchers at the end, and I would have liked more of a sour punch, but it's still pretty good as-is.

I fully intended to buy a half of Holt's Sixex Reserva, attracted by the white-label bottle, but they were only giving away samples of it. As expected for a barrel-aged English strong ale it was a beautifully rich and warming beer, full of rasins, dark chocolate and black cherry -- a little like a quadrupel, but cleaner; missing the fruity esters and having a drier tea-like quality. Not a summer festival beer by any means but worth bearing in mind for colder days.

And the grab-and-go beer was Pomona Island's Tropical Sour. There was quite a sulphurous aroma from this one, then a more innocent sweet flavour, with mango, passionfruit and pineapple: properly tropical. That's all the complexity you get, however, and I got bored of it quite quickly. Fruit and sour is a tricky balancing act and this, while clean and drinkable, just didn't have enough of the latter.

With that, it was time to leave the festival and see if any of the other railway arches nearby had anything of note to drink.