Manchester UK – All the Cask Ales

I couldn’t possibly define the most authentic English city for beer anymore than an Englishman traveling through the United States could define the most authentic city for beer. In my visits to England, I have only enjoyed drinking in London and Manchester. Last year I also visited nearby Dublin Ireland.
I spent a good full four drinking days mostly visiting pups, eating curry, and chilling/hanging out in our hotel room occasionally working and sometimes reading. People would ask me in the pubs every once in a while what I was doing and Manchester. My response typically was I am here to drink all the cask ales. Some found this strange and others applauded me for my choices. One wanted to give me a hug because he loved this reason.
A bartender serving a beer on cask.
I won’t use this article to badmouth London. You can read about my experiences a few years back in a separate article that I posted. I found the much smaller town of Manchester, including staying inside an area considered the city center to be much more my style of place to visit. There were a few delightful pubs within a five minute walk from our hotel, a bit more on the north side of the center. And then there were other parts of town where you could easily stumble between 5 to 10 different pubs in a single night if you were so inclined.
You may be wondering what the hell is a cask ale and why should I care to come all the way to Manchester to drink some. I have written about the style in a few posts about other breweries in America including Yorkshire Square brewing Company, close to monkish brewing and located sort of southern Los Angeles in its own little town of Torrance. I have also discussed cask ales in my post about Hogs Head brewing in Denver and The Civil Life brewing in St. Louis Missouri.
If you have visited any of these breweries, or even had a cask ale at San Diego’s local new English brewing Company, you can appreciate somewhat how difficult it is to find beers of this style within the United States. But it is only after visiting Manchester and tasting the delightfully low alcohol beers, under 4% and occasionally under 3%, that you realize a style and a true session beer that American craft Beer has not yet embraced.
In the majority of my time drinking in Manchester pubs, I tried to order beers that were 4% alcohol or lower and whenever possible a beer on cask. I can’t speak for whether this style is slowly disappearing or not but it is noteworthy that on my visit to Cloudwater, the local craft brewery that is most well known outside of Manchester, they did not have a single beer on cask.
I had my first pint in Manchester at the Smithfield market Tavern, where I got some great recommendations from the bartender for some local pubs connected to local craft breweries that I was not aware of before my visit. It was early in the day and locals were not drinking so I got a bit more time to chat with the bartender than I might have otherwise. Most notable from this visit was my taste of a delicious beer from track brewing Company called Sonoma. This is there flagship pale ale that is quite low alcohol and has a lovely hop presence reminiscent of West Coast style American craft beer without the bitterness. Though I visited track brewing later the same day, nothing at the brewery was as impressive as this delightful cask pint of Sonoma that I drank as my 1st pint in Manchester. A few other local pale ales came close and somewhat surpassed this delightful beer.
I visited Cloudwater brewing two days in a row trying various beers that they had. I had tasted their hazy IPAs before and held them in high regard but did not realize how expensive individual cans were going to be at the brewery. And for whatever reason, I did not care for the hazy beers they had on tap during my visit. Thankfully they had a few interesting other beers that I really enjoyed including a smoked beer and a wine barrel aged Imperial Stout. At Cloudwater, they charge 8 pounds per can of most double IPAs. For comparison, most breweries in the US selling similar double IPAs in 4packs would charge around $22 for 4 beers, or $5.50 per can. And depending on the exchange rate, 8 pounds is closer to $9 or $10 per can.
A few notes about visiting both track and Cloudwater, they both had more of the brewery feel as opposed to all of the other pubs that I visited. While I previously would’ve lamented the lack of ability to visit breweries directly in Ireland prior to my trip, I actually preferred the experience of visiting pups connected to breweries as opposed to visiting breweries directly. Cloudwater has a unique enough tasting room that it is worth visiting at least once and trying a few of the beers but it isn’t noticeably more enjoyable than visiting the local pubs.
I won’t go through the list of all the various other beers that I tried at various pubs over the next few days. It is simple enough to state that I was generally impressed by the quality of flavorful low alcohol beers with tons of hop aroma. I was especially blown away by a 2.8% hazy session IPA from Northern Monk Brewing Company, a beer I drink during two separate visits to their pub and brought a few cans back with me. For comparison sake, it is difficult if not impossible to find a flavorful beer in the United States that is under 5% alcohol.
I don’t mean to say that every pint was the pinnacle of epic or exploding with flavor. Some styles are not meant to be that way and the traditional English mild, English bitter, or English dark mild or not intended to be incredibly hoppy or full-flavored. They are however generally enjoyable to drink and I never had a difficult time finishing my pint even further beers that I might’ve preferred to have a little more flavor.
Even during my stops into pups that locals later referred to in unkind language surprised that I would stop by such an establishment, the local beer was perfectly good enough for me to enjoy my pint and move on even if it didn’t have the same explosion of flavor as Track Brewing Company’s Sonoma pale or Northern Monk’s delightful session hazy IPA. One such simple beer was a lovely 3.6% English mild served at a spot called pie and ale. During their lunch special, I was able to get a pint of the beer with a vegan savory pie for 10 pounds. I ended up having two additional pints of the same beer because it was crisp and delicious.
Vegan pie with a pint of bitter.
Even classic established beers like J W Lees Bitter and Wainwright Golden ale hit the spot and made decent starts to the day of drinking. I also recall quite fondly my experience visiting The Marble Arch, a classic pub connected to Marble brewing Company. Aside from enjoying some lower alcohol beers here, I also had two lovely barrel aged old ales. One was aged in Barbera wine barrels and the other in bourbon barrels. They also had some incredible quality food.
I can’t say whether Manchester will be my favorite city in England forever but suffice it to say, it was a lovely experience and I would happily return solo for a few days of drinking if I happen to have reason to travel to Scotland or other areas nearby. If you can find a reasonable priced flight and are interested in enjoying English cask ales, you can’t go wrong with Manchester. It is a lovely way to experience English Cask Ales.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Portland Oregon Breweries – Von Ebert and Little Beast

Von Ebert

Thanks to a tip from Jeff Alworth (known on Twitter and elsewhere as Beervana) I had Von Ebert on my list of spots to visit while in Portland. Since I had a day in Portland, I decided to visit a few Portland breweries after Pfriem rather than exploring other Hood River spots. Von Ebert has a massive indoor spot with tons of seating. As one might expect from the size, it gets loud quickly and can be a bit chaotic.
I ordered a very interesting sounding beer first, a smoked rye beer aged on coffee. In the wrong hands this beer could be overly smoky, have prominent rye character, or too much coffee. The beer was perfectly balanced with subtle notes of smoke, a mild rye bite, and light nutty coffee on the finish. I would have ordered a crowler of this beer to go but they ran out shortly after I finished my pint.
I finished with their dark lager, a traditional German style beer that I love when it is done well. The beer was a bit thicker and more chocolate forward than the traditional style but quite delicious; It had prominent notes of dark chocolate and raisins. I hope to visit Von Ebert again on a future trip. The two beers I tried indicated that the brewers are quite talented.

Little Beast

I decided to leave Von Ebert after two pints and made my way to Little Beast, where they had a variety of delicious sour and wild ales on draft. Little Beast is much smaller than Von Ebert, and has a more intimate vibe with a small bar area and some surrounding seating.
I started with a full pour of Field Folk, a brett saison. The beer was dry and balanced, with prominent brett funk and mild citrus notes. I then got a few half pours so I could try more styles. The Ferme Rouge was lovely with notes of cherry, mildly tart, with low acidity. It was nicely balanced and easy drinking. The Dutchy was a lovely restrained aged sour with notes of cherry and dark chocolate. My husband surprisingly enjoyed this one. The Belgian dark strong was thick with notes of chocolate. I would have preferred this to be less dry, but it was solid.
I really enjoyed tasting the beers at Little Beast and was glad to see how restrained in acidity some of the sours were. They are worth checking out for fans of Belgian styles and sours.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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The Haze Craze – A Response to Beervana

When I planned to visit Brooklyn for a weekend in May of 2019 I did not know Jeff Alworth (@Beervana) was also visiting the area. We both made a point of visiting Other Half Brewing Company. It sounds from his post like this was Jeff’s first visit and possibly first taste of Other Half beer. This was my third visit to Other Half and in the time since my previous visit I enjoyed their beer a few times at beer festivals. Typically when I see them at a beer festival, it greatly increases my interest because to me they are one of the top 10 breweries in the country.
Jeff asks an interesting question in his recent post titled “Brewers Aren’t Inspired by the Widget Model.” If this style is so successful, why is it not more widely adopted by breweries around the country? After all, Other Half charges between $16 and $22 for 4 cans of beer sold only from the tasting room. And on draft the beers are often $4 for a 4oz pour and $8 for an 8oz pour. People don’t question paying these prices because the quality is always top notch.
Tasters of two Oat Cream Triple IPAs at Other Half.
To answer Jeff’s question, I would say that the primary reason more breweries are not adopting the model of Other Half is that it is difficult to consistently brew high quality Hazy IPAs of the sort that Other Half, Tree House, Monkish, and others brew. I use these three as an example because each of them has beer that is exclusively sold from their tasting room and they sell through the beer fairly quickly. I have also personally tasted the beers to verify that yes they are consistently excellent. Tree House and Other Half have upped production to a point where you can more easily leave the brewery with cans without waiting in lines at Monkish, where the beers still sell out on the day of release every release.
I also would suggest that a lot of breweries are trying to cash in on the popularity of The Haze Craze and selling beers labeled as hazy IPAs while most of them miss the mark either occasionally or consistently. Of course this is all speculation on my part based on my observations in the beer market and what I consider a proper hazy IPA to be. Some would say that if the beer is cloudy it is a hazy IPA and that my definition is too strict. I respect that point of view but also respectfully disagree. The standard for hazy IPA exists and has been set by Other Half and Tree House. I have give up blind buying hazy IPAs from most breweries I can find in local liquor stores because I have gotten far too many that in one way or another don’t have the level of flavor or the creamy mouthfeel that I associate with the style.
There is a reason that people living in the areas around Tree House, Other Half, and Monkish drive to the breweries on a regular basis to buy a large amount of cans. There is a consistent quality these breweries have obtained that is not so common at other breweries. In the San Diego beer scene, many breweries are releasing hazy IPAs and some are usually hazy, but none are at the level of quality or consistency of Tree House, Other Half, or Monkish. Some have told me this has to do with the water that brewers have to work with in San Diego and that Modern Times brewery has become more consistent after they opened breweries in Portland Oregon and Downtown Los Angeles.
So far the one brewery I consistently buy Hazy IPAs from at my local liquor stores in San Diego is Seattle’s Fremont Brewing Company because they understand what Hazy IPA means and are committed to a certain level of quality for their beers. The majority of other breweries shipping their hazy IPAs into San Diego currently from throughout California have not achieved a consistent level of quality. A few breweries that have consistently produced excellent Hazy IPAs that I would love to see more of in San Diego are Fieldwork and Cellarmaker in San Francisco and Fort George up in Oregon.
Please feel free to correct me if you know more about this issue than I do. I may have some of this wrong. You may think this is much ado about nothing. My husband certainly does and is tired of hearing me complain about beers that aren’t properly hazy.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Pfriem Family Brewers – Hood River Oregon

Pfriem is in Hood River Oregon, about an hour east of Portland. It is a lovely drive along the Columbia River. I expect we missed some of the true majesty of the drive because it had recently snowed. Pfriem is a restaurant and so you may have to wait for a table if you plan to visit on a weekend. Thankfully we ended up in the upstairs area because it was a little bit quieter up there at least before it filled up.
I already expected excellent beer and was pleasantly surprised by the excellent food as well. For the hardcore beer nut, it may not be worth a visit given you can find so many of their  beers in bottles and cans around town. As of this writing the cans are expected any day now but they seem to have focused the initial runs of cans on their local market rather than distributing them to San Diego.
I visited having previously enjoyed the delicious pilsner and a few sours so I mostly wanted to enjoy the beers at the source. The pilsner was as excellent as I remember. It is a gold winning beer for a reason. The beer was easy drinking with light notes of honey and hay with a crisp dry finish. This is certainly a beer for drinking as opposed to sipping. The traditional saison was lightly sweet and chewy with notes of cloves and tons of Belgian yeast character. The yeast  dominated the beer here and any hops were barely detectable.
Given how high quality Pfriem’s other beers were, I ordered the hazy IPA without trying it. It was about as much of a miss as has become common in San Diego. While the beer was hazy in appearance it was not soft or pillowy as one might expect from the style. It had some notes of melon and tropical fruit but the boozy alcohol character dominated, making it mildly unpleasant. I don’t recommend you seek out this hazy when their traditional IPAs are so much better.
Known for: 
Come for excellent interpretations of classic styles including some lambic inspired barrel aged sours. You can find their beers in bottles and cans around Oregon and even down into San Diego.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Bosque Brewing Revisited – New Restaurant Location

When I first visited Bosque in 2017, they had only one location, which was a dark restaurant with solid beer. In the time since that visit they opened a much larger restaurant in Bernalillo, outside of Albuquerque, that I was told I had to stop by and visit while I was in the area.

I heard about the views at Bosque’s new location making it worth a visit. On the drive over, I started to wonder as I got closer whether I was lied to. Then I realized that the mountains visible before exiting the freeway are visible from their back patio. Despite the chilly time of year, with heaters and a few layers, it was comfortable to sit on the patio and enjoy a few beers. The view made it extra special with the snow on the mountains in the distance.
I started with their house lager, which came highly recommended. It was crisp and clean just as I would expect, making it a perfect beer to enjoy in a full 20oz pour. I then ordered their hazy IPA, which was properly hazy with notes of juicy citrus and light pine. Despite being labeled as 70 IBU, it was nicely balanced and not overly bitter. Though I didn’t try all the beers, they were much improved from my visit two years prior.
While at the brewery, a friend and I shared their vegetarian poutine. Though more accurately I had a few bites while he devoured it. They use a green chili sauce instead of traditional poutine gravy, giving it a great kick. I especially enjoyed the last few bites that were smothered in the sauce.
If you have the time while you are in Albuquerque, make sure to venture out to Bosque’s new restaurant in Bernalillo, a short ride outside of town. It is a lovely spot and worth a visit. They had a great lineup of beers including some delicious hazy IPAs.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Exploring San Diego's Craft Breweries