Month: July 2015

Buxton Tap House-Thornbridge Brewery-Magic Rock (again!)-Manchester

Four trains! Four trains to get from Newcastle to Buxton- I mean it is 2015 isn’t it? Anyway after meeting up with my friend Steve (@tweetinghops) at Stockport, we embarked on the final train to Buxton. Arriving just before two pm we sought out our lodgings- The Queen’s Head, nice room but questionable bar. Straight after that it was down to the Buxton Tap House for some light refreshments. Two halves of Axe Edge later (fantastic by the way) we tried Spa pale ale on cask. We weren’t impressed- far more lively on keg! The bar itself was small but cosy with an exceptional array of bottles and taps. More on that later. Anyway after a brief chat with the bar dude we discovered it was going to cost thirty quid in a taxi to Thornbridge! It’s like 12 miles. Checking out the bus timetable we realised we had missed the hourly bus by seven minutes. Perhaps checking that before seeking out Axe Edge may have been a more economical plan.

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Steve making sure he’s first into the Tap House!

So the taxi turned up and asked if we knew where the brewery was! Not a good sign. Driving out of Buxton, the driver said that he thinks the tap house get their beer from somewhere local. I was like- yeah the Buxton Brewery; they own the bar! It appears that both Buxton and Thornbridge are secrets in the Peak District. After establishing that the summer of ’77 was the best ever summer we arrived at Bakewell- that of the tarts. We appeared to have over shot our trajectory a tad. Thankfully, a passing American tourist knew exactly where the brewery was and directed the local of fifty plus years without hesitation. You can always trust an American to hunt out their craft!

After walking through an industrial estate which resembled the set of a SyFy zombie movie, we found Thornbridge tucked away in the far corner. Browsing the shop, we discovered that the beers on offer were no cheaper than a good bottle shop. In fact many of the guests were ridiculously priced. Sierra Nevada Torpedo at over £3.50 a bottle; er it’s £2 in M and S dudes. We were greeted by our tour guy who was a nice enough sales rep for the brewery but seemed ill at ease with public talking. He was nice enough to give us a Cocoa Wonderland which is a sensational chocolate stout. It didn’t last long.

The tour got underway and it was a seriously interesting way to spend part of the afternoon. You get to go around the control room, the lab, the main brewery and the highlight- the barrel ageing room. Walking in, the smell of glorious Four Roses bourbon hits your nose instantly. We learned that they contained a Belgian beauty which had been ageing for fourteen months. I pushed for a taster but he wasn’t going for it at all. Shame but I had to ask. The pinball table (Lethal Weapon 3) and camper van were also cool additions to this wonderful room which was floor to ceiling with hundreds of bourbon barrels. We were also told that the last Wednesday of every month they invite pop up food sellers and have a general party. Like what’s wrong with a Saturday? Back in the shop, we were treated to more Cocoa Wonderland but we needed to head to Bakewell to locate our bus back to Buxton. At least we hoped that was the case as nobody seemed particularly knowledgeable about their exact existence! Anyway- the tour was great and I recommend it to any beer enthusiast.

The barrel ageing project at Thornbridge.
The barrel ageing project at Thornbridge.

After waiting an additional twenty five minutes for the bus, we were heading back to Buxton. We head back to the tap house where we met up with Chris from Sheffield (he of last adventure). He had come to meet us for tea as he was heading to far off shores the next day. More Axe Edge and we ordered food. What can I say- it was seriously good. the kind that is small but you want to eat everything on it. We opted for the nachos covered in chilli, the pulled pork, sausage and bacon bun things and the shin beef chilli. All seriously delicious. Chris departed so Steve and I got to sampling the wonderful Buxton offerings. Very Far Skyline- an aged Berlinner Weisse was not in the chiller but the lovely bar person said that she would put a couple in for us for later on. We sampled Experimental on tap (a super IPA/Sour hybrid) and Buxton/Omnipollo Stolen Fruit. A tart grapefruit and key lime sour. The staff in the tap house were extremely friendly and very knowledgeable and proud of their brewery. They should be!

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After a few more Axe Edge (why not) we ventured out into Buxton itself. Right next door to the tap house is a canny little bar/eatery which has a few Thornbridge taps on. We sampled I Love You Will You Marry Me- a rather pleasant fruit blonde and Halycyon- an incredible double IPA. We ventured to a few more bars and then back to our Very Far Skyline at the Tap House. Unfortunately another bar staffer had sold our bottles to some dude who worked at Thornbridge and carried some clout due to the fact that he was wearing a Russian River t-shirt. (Yes- he had been !) Anyway I didn’t care much about his superior craft status- I was having those bottles and was ready for a fight. (Not a physical one as I’m not that way inclined.) To be honest, he was rather a cool dude and handed them over once he realised that we had travelled from afar and he could come into the Tap House any time he wished. Bloody show off but an all round cool guy.

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All round cool dude- whoever you are, thanks for the bottles man!

Getting back to the room, we settled in for a night of The Last Boy Scout which we actually saw together in Nottingham back in ’91! At this point it was clear that a double bourbon and Coke was needed. Getting dressed, albeit sans shoes and socks, I head to the Queen’s Head bar to order. Alright, I wasn’t wearing shoes and socks but upon arrival I was accused of breaking the fire escape door thingy by Mr Bouncer- like really! I’ve got no shoes and socks on; how could I have been in the bar- exited the bar seconds earlier and then returned to said bar? Anyway- I managed to protest my innocence and got to the bar-shoeless- unnoticed. Returning to the room, it was clear that Steve wasn’t going to last much longer so I had two double bourbon and Cokes and the rest of the Last Boy Scout to watch.

Train time again- heading back to Huddersfield (again) and taking Steve to Magic Rock Tap Room for a glass of Pina Collision. The weather in Huddersfield was considerably better than the Peak District but I needed a belt- badly. I was wearing my pants youth style. Hanging around my arse! Long story and walk cut short- Primark saved the day. Next stop the Sportsman and a quick Magic Rock Grapefruit High Wire. Now that’s breakfast!

Steve was pretty excited about Magic Rock and so he should be. Upon entering the smell coming from Banh Mi Booth Vietnamese street food van was incredible. We went in to the tap house and last week’s bar dude recognised me (nice touch) but there was no Pina Collision (not good). Salty Kiss gose is superb anytime but when the sun is shining it’s exceptional.

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After a wonderful afternoon at Magic Rock again, we decided it was time to hit the train again and venture to Manchester. On the train, I started to Google craft bars and the Port Street Beer House came up tops. After checking their website and beer list I nearly passed out. Cigar City Jai Alai on tap and Dogfishead 90 minute IPA in bottles. Freeze time- like what? Really? How? Who cares, let’s go!

Okay, I’m from Newcastle and you can walk top to bottom in fifteen minutes tops and that’s if you’re walking slow. Manchester- not so much. We came out of Piccadilly to bedlam. All the tram lines were being ‘done’ or something like that. Anyway it was time for Google maps to save the day. Or not! Steve’s iPhone 4s and my 5c produced two different routes to the bar. Both said 0.2 miles and 6 minutes walking. 35 minutes later we arrived, the routes were obviously based on Manchester from the 90s. Getting in the small yet spectacular bar I noticed straight away- no Jai Alai on tap. The conversation went something like this: So is your website up to date? Well we add beers but don’t tend to take them off. So there was no 90 minute IPA either. Come on Ports Street Beer House-sort your website out! However, they did have Against The Grain Bo and Luke. This is one of the most sought after barrel aged beers in the world. It was 25 quid for a 750ml bottle. It wasn’t the price putting us off; it was the 13% at 5pm. I’m sorry to say that we decided against it. However, there were many other great beers on offer.

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Next up- Marble Arch Inn. Now this is some real history. It’s where Marble brewery started. The bonus- just around the corner on Google maps! 45 minutes of walking and about 4 miles later we arrived!

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The doll was getting some action from a hen party but the beer was sensational. Again- a must visit for any beer geek.

So now we decided to head to Brewdog- part of my mission to visit everyone in the UK. Google maps informed us it was 15 minutes away. Just under an hour later we arrived. Either Steve and I have a total brain freeze when it comes to Google maps or it doesn’t actually work that well. Elvis Juice and Summer Wine Brewery superb Mauna Kea five tropical fruits IPA. Okay- now to find Beermoth, the legendary bottle shop which was just around the corner- on Google Maps! Over half an hour later we found the place. It was amazing. Downstairs they had a bar where you could choose your beers and drink them.

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We had a good chat to one of the Beermoth dudes who was a brewer with Quantum and had recently brewed a beer with the exceptional Northern Alchemy (from Newcastle- more about them in future blogs hopefully). We discussed the pineapple and habanero sour which literally destroys your throat as you drink it. By the time we left Beermoth it was time to find food. Back to Brewdog and superb burgers and loving dogs!

Steve needs food!
Steve needs food!

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Okay- it had been an epic day but now it was heading near 9pm and time to head back to Buxton. Obviously what we needed was more beer.

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Because what you need, really need after a full day of craftness is three imperial stouts. All I can end with is that Yellow Belly is one of the finest beers I’ve ever tasted and The Living End could stand up tall next to Founders legendary KBS. Oh and if you are in Buxton on a Sunday after a weekend of excessive exploration, the Tap House do delicious Sunday dinners!

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Sheffield to Huddersfield Beer train- sort of!

So a good friend of mine from school recently got in touch after a few years in Cyprus. We got on to talking about craft beer and Brewdog. I mentioned that I have a mission to visit every UK bar so we organised a weekend at his to visit Brewdog Sheffield and The Sheffield tap. I was pretty excited and then he appeared at another friend’s 40th last weekend. He explained that the plan had been organised- I was confused as I thought we already had a plan. Turned out he’d organised this beer train trip from Sheffield to Huddersfield. My heart sank. You see the thing is that whereas I’m utterly obsessed with craft beer,I have found it’s destroyed my ability to enjoy other drinks. I try cask beer every now and again but I just don’t get it- it’s way too watery for my liking but I know- other opinions are available. Anyway, after this bombshell- the whole train journey to several outstanding ‘real ale’ pubs he let me know that we were going with a huge group of his fellow workers- all high school teachers! Two things about me- one, I’m a teacher myself so if I want to go out with a bunch of other teachers it will be the ones that I work with and like. Two- I’m not great at getting on with people I find boring; that is- people who don’t share my obsessive interests! So the weekend was planned and I was not looking forward to it one bit.

I got down to Sheffield after a very hectic last day of term; I was exhausted. We went to the local where the craft selection was zero so I opted to try cask again- a Samuel Adams summer pale ale. It wasn’t good; watery and lifeless but at least it tasted as though it had been near some hops. So my mate’s wife asked me if I was looking forward to getting up early. I was like- what? Turned out we were getting on the train at 9 am! I thought it was an evening thing.

The next morning we arrived at the train station to find what I can only describe as the extras from the Vicar of Dibly (and a dog) waiting for us. I thought- be brave and start a conversation so I did with the guy who had organised the whole thing. We got onto talking about train journeys (exciting-I know) and I told him about my recent trip to the Brewdog agm. He said to me- Brewdog, two words- too hoppy. Well that was the end of that friendship before it even began.

We arrived at the first pub in Huddersfield at 11 am and I had to say that I was about to eat a huge slice of humble pie. The Sportsman is a superb venue with a great selection of beers on cask and keg, including Magic Rock. Although, I had to admit defeat that 11am was too early for Big Top. I opted for the excellent Heart and Soul on keg from Vocational brewery. It was very, very good. I got to talking with the bar dude who went on to inform me that Magic Rock was ten minutes down the road. I felt a need to change the battle plan.

Luckily Chris, afore mentioned friend, sensed that the other pubs on the trail wouldn’t have the level of selection as this and he was curious to see what Magic Rock was all about. After a swift lunch we ditched the Vicar of Diblys and headed down the road.

Upon seeing the Magic Rock sign next left, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. We walked round and followed the signs to the tap room. In the forecourt was a bloody pop up smoke house- damn, why had we just eaten? We went to the bar and were greeted with a rather exceptional board. There it was, Salty Kiss! The last time I had tried it was the 2014 Brewdog AGM and it I remember it being utterly fantastic. I have since become rather partial to a Gose but they are sadly hard to get a hold of. Sitting there in this haven of craft excellence, I decided to be cheeky and put on Twitter that I would love to go into the brewery itself, which is still under construction. Seconds later the tweet returned- We can make that happen. So off we went for a look around and it was great to see how much this amazing brewery has grown. The equipment they have is large and shiny and mesmerising. It was turning out to be a rather excellent day. We stayed there for a few hours sampling some of the finest craft beer produced in the UK. The crowning glory was Pina Collision which is a sour/wild collab with Stillwater. It smelled like an amplified pear drop and its taste is a pineapple, citrus, bitter avalanche. It was bloody fantastic!

Heading back to the station, a little more wobbly, we decided that missing all the other pubs and going straight back to Sheffield would be a fine idea. We got back at around 4pm and head straight to Brewdog. After a quick half of vagabond pale ale and a few turns on the free pinball we headed to the Devonshire Cat. Now this is a great bar; huge selection of taps and bottles from around the UK and the world. I was about to grab a Founders All Day IPA when I noticed Fyne Ales Jarl on cask. I always remember all round beer guru, The Ale Trail, telling me how fantastic this was when I told him about me disliking cask. Bloody hell he was right. Smooth and not thin, it was utterly delicious and quaffable. So much so that I grabbed another.

From there we stumbled to the Sheffield Tap, another sensational drinking emporium. Their bottle selection is like Aladdin’s cave. After a Tuatara pale ale, Brodies hackney Red and a Yeastie Boys tea leaf IPA it really was getting on for home time.

So what can I say- Sheffield is an amazing city; the sun was glorious; Magic Rock Tap Room is a must for any craft enthusiast and I had a bloody excellent day. Just a pity that Magic Rock had sold out of their wonderful growlers!

The fabulous Magic Rock Tap Room
The fabulous Magic Rock Tap Room
On tap in The Sportsman
On tap in The Sportsman
Inside the Magic Rock Brewery
Inside the Magic Rock Brewery
Some of the bottles on offer in The Sheffield Tap
Some of the bottles on offer in The Sheffield Tap
The Devonshire Cat
The Devonshire Cat
Free pinball in Brewdog Sheffield
Free pinball in Brewdog Sheffield
Nightcap courtesy of Brewdog Sheffield
Nightcap courtesy of Brewdog Sheffield