03 August 2018

Rolling with it

Rounding out the beers I found on my quick trip to Manchester last month, today it's the happenstance beers, the ones found in places I hadn't particularly chosen to go but ended up drinking in.

I spotted Nazca IPA, from Chile, on the menu at Fazenda, the rodizio restaurant. I've never had a Chilean beer before. Subsequent research shows it to be from the Rothhammer brewery in Santiago. Anyway, it's singularly unimpressive. Crossing the Atlantic the long way hasn't helped it, and I doubt many Fazenda customers choose it. Mine tasted very stale, without any hop character. What remained was grainy and lager-like: clean, I suppose, but far from a proper IPA, even allowing for the broadness of that genre.

After dinner we dropped in to the nearby Sawyer's Arms for postprandial pints and to catch the end of the Russia-Croatia match. The fact that it's a Nicholson's house is what got me in the door as they're universally reliable beerwise, in my experience. When it came to it on that particular sweltering evening, however, I couldn't bring myself to order cask. We went for two from Red Willow. Guileless is a pilsner and started out well: clean and clear, blending wholesome bread malt with gentle mandarin fruit. This didn't last long, however. Only a small increase in temperature was enough to boost the malt side sufficiently to bury the hops, and introduce some unpleasant headachey esters. This pils needs to be consumed cold, probably in measures less than a pint, if it's to retain its charm.

Beside it, Wreckless, a pale ale. This was much better, being amber coloured with a funky and dank new world aroma. This translates to an oily flavour, brimming with slick hop resins and refreshing sparks of lime and grapefruit zest. The fingerprints of perennial influencer Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are smeared greenly all over it: it has the same easy-going yet punchy quenching power.

I missed visiting Manchester icon The Marble Arch on my last few trips to the city so was pleased to be able to squeeze a late-night visit in this time. I picked one of Marble's Manchester Beer Week specials to start, the Exotic Peppercorn Vienna Lager, brewed with the assistance of Melissa Cole. This lager did a much better job of taking the edge off a hot and humid evening, staying clean all the way through. The black pepper seasoning is big and apparent right from the opener, but still doesn't interfere with the base lager. It does have a certain bathsalts or medicine cabinet edge which I wasn't a fan of, but overall this an approachable and balanced sort of novelty beer.

The pub was also serving the official beer of Manchester Beer Week: Summer Pale Ale, brewed by JW Lees in collaboration with Northern Monk. On cask this was a bright golden colour and is the epitome of pale English bitter. There's a deftly balanced blend of wax, honey and lemon: hop driven but on a rounded malt base. Its best trick was being quaffable and refreshing while also at cellar temperature. This is a great ambassador for the flexibility of cask ale when brewed and kept well: it's not just for fireside drinking in cosy country pubs.

Last  orders brought Dinosaurs Will Die, a tropical fruit gose. This one was co-created at Marble by artist Lily Waite as a tie-in for an exhibition she had on for Manchester Beer Week. It's 4.1% ABV and a murky yellow shade with no head. The fruit has been laid on very heavily and thoroughly covers the more subtle aspects of the gose profile. I got a sense of Berocca or similar vitamin tablets from it, plus bags of sticky candy sugar. All a bit overwhelming for me, and just too sweet. I don't know much about art, but I didn't like this.

The collaborative vibe continued on Sunday afternoon when we stepped in to Port Street Beer House. I picked A-tomic, a collaboration Marble did with Yorkshire brewer Zapato. It's broadly in the Flanders red style, though stronger than most at 7.2% ABV. The aroma is the typical sour cherry while the flavour opens, oddly but not unpleasantly, on sweet coconut. It follows this up with a mild vinegar tang and a musty cork-oak staleness. Both of these are acceptable in beers like this, but here they're pungent enough to unbalance the whole thing. It needs to be cleaner and smoother, with a bigger fruit element, to pass as the real deal.

A quick half of Bone Machine Malt Tooth Grin before moving on. This was described as a dry-hopped mild but failed to deliver any of the good things implied by those words. It arrived amber coloured, tasting chalky and musty, like a low-grade brown bitter. The hopping added a pukey acidity which I found intensely unpleasant. At least it was well-kept. All blame goes to the brewer here, or maybe just my sense of taste.

Winding our way back to the station for the airport train, the plan was a quick one in The Piccadilly Tap but when we got there it had closed for the day, citing the carbon dioxide shortage as the reason. Plan B was The Bull's Head, a pleasant Marstons house I had a few pints in back in 2009, but when we arrived it was closed too. Improvised plan C involved the only other visible pub, the slightly dodgy looking Monroe's, one street over. "Real Ales" says the sign on the exterior, so it can't be all bad...

"Real ales" proved to be Robinson's Dizzy Blonde. Dodgy name and a dodgy brewery, in my experience. And now I have to walk that prejudice back because it turned out to be surprisingly decent, showing crisp cereals and a waxed lemon bitterness. It's light, easy-going, yet complex enough to hold the drinker's attention through the pint and doubtless through a session too. Considerably better than nothing.

The final beer of the trip was airside at Manchester airport: SXSW Pale Ale by Canopy. The hops must have been detained at security because this turned out to be insanely sweet, a sticky mix of vanilla, brown sugar and caramel. The colour was highly deceptive as it appears yellow but tastes very very brown. Disappointingly unhoppy, and just disappointing generally. The weekend ended as it began, with a bum note of a beer.

This is the second of these one-night trips I've done to a nearby English city (Liverpool 2015 is here). I know where I'd like the next one to be; I just need to find the time.

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