On Friday, 5 of our local intrepid beer drinkers set out over the Pennines to see what Manchester really did have to offer those visiting the Winter Ales Festival there. As you will see, we were so impressed we never made it to the festival, but spent our time trekking round the pubs in the City's Northern Quarter. This is what we found.
Taking the train to Victoria our first call was at the Smithfield on Swan St. Even though it was only 1130 am, the pub was open and well stocked with 'tickers' from far and wide sampling the delights on the bar. The pub was holding its own beer festival so in addition to the 8 beers on the bar, we had the chance to sample several more from the cellar, but at this time we declined. However, from the bar we selected Acorn 'Pacific Gem', Norfolk Cottage 'Winter Wonder', Rockingham 'Winter Forest', Roosters 'Ginger' and for some reason, a 7.2% offering from Hopshackle, 'Resination'. All were in good form, but the Acorn was the beer of choice, with the beer bringing out all the hop character of the America hop used.
From there, we crossed the road to the Bar Fringe. Here just the 5 beers on the bar were available, but they were again in fine condition. Reading my notes, I tried Phoenix 'Ice Queen' and Six Bells 'At-ten-shun'. After a discussion this is where we split up, the larger group making for the Marble Arch for their fine beers and food whilst I went in search of more new beers.
My next call was the 'Angel' at the bottom of Oldham Rd. I have not visited here since it was the Beer House and was pleasantly surprised with the beers on offer. Again I did not write them all down, but out of the 8 or so on the bar, I selected Redemption 'Pale ale', a new brewery to me from London, and Brown Cow 'Dark Angel' which was again a fine beer from a very good brewster. The most interesting beer here though was an offering from Harviestoun which the licencee advised us was 'Old Engine Oil' matured in whisky casks, and at 10.5% not a beer to be taken lightly. I avoided this, but some of the party tried it later and were very impressed.
My wanderings then took me back past the Smithfield, and being unable to walk past a beer festival, called in for a second go, and some beers from the cellar this time since the crowds had moved on. Here I sampled two more new breweries from the extensive list, Ha'penny and WC, and although both beers were acceptable I would have preferred to see what they tasted like on the bar, seeming to lack a bit of condition.
Dragging myself away from the vast numbers of Norfolk beers available here, I continued along to the City Arms. Another pub that has apparently reinvented itself. It is light and airy but with its plastic seating and odd clientele but it is one that I won't be visiting very often. On the bar were 3 Acorn beers, two may have been house beers, 'City Gent' and 'City Slicker' and both were reasonable but served by a disinterested bar maid who seemed to think she was there to chat to her friends rather than serve.
By this time, my beer meter was showing full, so I had to forgo the intended visit to The Microbar in The Arndale centre, which was a mistake since I managed to overlook 2 more new breweries on the bar there.
All in all, however, the trip did showcase what Manchester can offer in a small number of pubs, and will be well worth repeating, hopefully on a drier day. I tried lots of different beers from around the country ,most were good, and a couple were excellent. It is well worth a day out.