Well, it’s got to be said that 2015 has been a pretty damn good year if you’re a beer drinker in Manchester. We’ve had new breweries setting up shop, new bars opening and plenty of beer festivals and brew taps, so here’s a little look back at the year just gone.
Only just over an hour away from Manchester, Buxton is in the heart of the Peak District and surrounded by hills and rolling countryside. But more importantly, it’s home to Buxton Brewery (and their tap house) and is very close to Thornbridge Brewery in nearby Bakewell, which is why we decided to spend a weekend in the town.
We kicked off with the Thornbridge Brewery tour on Friday afternoon. They run tours twice a week and you do need to book in advance. It costs £7.50 which includes your glass and a couple of a free drinks.
On arrival to their site (£30 in a taxi from Buxton), we walked through the shop, paid and then made our way to the bar where we were offered a half. They’ve got two kegs and one cask available along with a few bottles in a fridge. Bayern, I Love You Will U Marry Me? were on keg during our visit and Sequoia was on cask.
After a beer, the tour started with an intro to the brewery. They were originally set up within Thornbridge Hall when the owners bought the site and brewing started at its current location a few years later. The older site is still used for experimenting with new brews.
We then got on our hi-vis vests and went out back to the brewery.
Throughout the tour, it is obvious that this is a brewery that hasn’t shied away from spending cash. All of the equipment looked very modern and technology played a huge part in the brewery process.
This was most evident in the control room where you could see the computer systems which keep the tanks under control and monitor everything.
They’ve also got their own bottling line to keep everything in house and plenty of storage room.
Part of the tour took us over to a second building where they’re currently storing a new collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery – known as Serpent. It’s ageing away in Bourbon barrels and although they’re keeping their cards close to their chest, they’re aiming to release it soon. The sheer amount of barrels was an impressive sight to see!
After the tour, we went back to the bar and shop area where we made some bottle purchases and sampled a few more beers. It would’ve been nice for more beers on keg/cask, but as they don’t open very often I can see why they only offer a couple. It was an interesting tour as some work was still ongoing in the brewery – most other tours I’ve been on seem to be when they’re not too busy. In total, we were there for about two hours and had three halves each.
During the two and a half days we were in Buxton, the vast majority of our time was spent in Buxton Tap House mainly as a result of the sheer amount of choice – eight keg, five/six cask and a good selection of bottles.
The draught beers were all Buxton but the bottles featured a number of other UK and international breweries (including my beloved Mikkeller) and were all available to take away with a 20% discount.
The bar itself is spacious and modern and has a mix of seating including tables and chairs, and couches. It was also always fairly busy – probably due to the limited number of options in the town. Some food is also served – burgers (inc veggie option), sandwiches and some sides such as macaroni cheese and cheesy nachos.
The highlight of the weekend beer-wise was Yellow Belly – a Buxton Brewery collaboration with Omnipollo. It’s an 11% peanut butter and biscuit – without actually using either of those ingredients – stout with an amazing chocolatey smell and big, biscuity flavours which are just sensational. Wow. And I’m generally not a fan of dark beers. Coming in at £4.35 for 1/3, it’s not cheap but so worth it. Ross picked up a bottle to bring back but I think he’ll be holding on to that for a while!
Sadly, it looks like we picked the wrong date to visit as this Thursday they’re hosting an Omnipollo takeover! It would’ve been nice to sample more of theirs, but what can you do.
But, even without the additional Omnipollo beers, Buxton Tap House was great place to visit and with fairly regular trains to Manchester it’d be easy enough for a day trip – so go and visit!
It’s been a while since I’ve updated this as a result of a new job which means I spend a lot of my day blogging so I’m less inclined to do it of an evening!
But now I think it’s time to post about the Christmas present I got for Ross – a tour of Lancaster Brewery, which we combined with a mini-pub crawl.
Lancaster was somewhere I visited a lot as a child as my grandparents lived in the city, but I haven’t been back for a number of years so it was interesting to revisit and see it with adult eyes.
Our first port of call was The Sun, a pub which is owned by Lancaster Brewery.
They’d also reclaimed part of the garden and turned it into part of the building.
And as for the beer – a range of cask and keg options, not just limited to Lancaster Brewery’s which was good to see.
But we couldn’t enjoy it fully and only stayed for a half. This was because some of the other patrons were a group of parents with babies and a toddler who was running around shouting and generally playing up as he was being ignored by the adults. This did spoil the atmosphere which was a real shame as we could’ve stayed for another, and we had wondered why everyone else was squeezed in the smaller room which housed the bar when we arrived!
(As someone who doesn’t have children I’m not against them being in pubs, but there is a line that gets crossed when kids are running wild and being a disturbance to the detriment of other patrons.)
We then did some of the touristy bits and pieces (castle and Williamson Park) before heading over to the brewery.
It’s not in the centre – it’s about a 25 minute walk away up a huge hill and on a site which includes an antiques centre, a farm shop and a building site which will soon become housing. The brewery itself is in a former gardening centre.
I’d paid for the tour beforehand with a Groupon voucher (£35 for both of us which included tour, 4 pints each and a pie each) and on arrival after filling in health and safety forms (never done this before at any brewery we’ve previously visited), we were presented with cards for our four pints.
We were dressed up in white coats and taken around the brewery in the back.
The tour lasted about 40 minutes and was led by one of the bar staff, who was friendly and keen to answer any questions. It was very chilly though as it was a bitterly cold day and there’s a lot of ventilation in the brewery which probably didn’t help!
By this point we’d gone through all of the beer options available and although we hadn’t used all of the tokens on the card, we got a taxi back into the city centre (cost about £5, brewery called a taxi for us).
The Tap House was our next port of call and we had big expectations based on the name.
But it was slightly disappointing as there just wasn’t that much choice. The majority of the beers were from Hawkshead – not sure if it was because of a takeover, or if they just weren’t that creative with their options. Maybe I’m being harsh though – I do like Hawkshead (we’ve been on their brewery tour) but I was expecting something rarer.
Our next and final destination was Merchants 1668. We were attracted to it as it’s historic and close to the train station so seemed a perfect ending point.
It’s truly an adorable pub located within historic wine cellars which date back more than 300 years. It has a number of different chambers so there is plenty of seating – even with one of the sections closed off for a private party on our visit.
And the beer? Well, a few of them were off which wasn’t ideal but there were options to please both Ross and I so we were happy.
It really was all about the atmosphere – it was chock full of charm and was very cosy. They also have a beer garden so I’d be keen to visit in the summer and test it out.
So was Lancaster worth the trip? We had an enjoyable day out and it is a lovely city, but I think beer-wise we’ve been spoiled by living in Manchester. However it’s nice to explore somewhere else, and as we were only there for a day we didn’t get the chance to visit everywhere we would have liked to (for example we kept hearing good things about the Water Witch but it was a bit out of our way) so there are more pubs to try and beers to sample which we missed out on purely because of time.
Today seemed to be the first day in about a month it hasn’t rained so we decided to take a trip up to Ramsbottom. I love this little place and even more so now I’ve discovered the Irwell Works Brewery.
Tucked away behind a Morrisons, this is a hidden gem.
As well as the brewery on the ground floor there’s a cosy little tap room on the first floor.
I started with the 5.5% Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Very easy to drink with a nice smooth taste.
Meanwhile Ross went for a half of the 4.4% Iron Plate Lancashire Stout. This was a flavoursome and hearty drink with a moreish after taste.
He followed this with the Tin Plate Dark Mild and the Rammy Brown Ale (unfortunately I forgot to photograph the latter!). The dark mild was nice but the brown ale wasn’t really one for me but he enjoyed it.
Although it’s only quite small it does have a little bar snacks menu featuring these sensational pies. Would highly recommend them – they were hearty and well-filled so ideal for soaking up some of the alcohol!
After the pies I went for the 4% Richard Mason 1888. This was an excellent English pale ale with a lovely hoppy after taste.
And for Ross it was the Copper Plate Bitter.
Overall a very enjoyable afternoon in a lovely little place with great pies and good beer.