Although I’m fairly well travelled across the North West, the North East is mostly unfamiliar territory to me so for a Christmas present, Ross arranged a weekend for us to explore Newcastle and Northumberland – especially because I kept banging on about wanting to visit Lindisfarne. With Newcastle home to some great breweries, most notably Wylam, there’s plenty of places to check out so here’s a look at the places we visited.
Despite growing up in Merseyside, living in Manchester and spending as much time as possible travelling and exploring, there’s one area very close to home where I’ve not spent too much time: Wales. Apart from a few trips as a child (and a hen do in Chester that involved visiting a spa in Deeside), Wales is very much undiscovered territory to me so when we were looking for a place for a weekend away, it seemed like the natural choice.
We stayed in rural Snowdonia – probably the most rural place I’ve ever stayed – but on the way there and back we made a few stop offs.
Trendy bar openings seem to be ten-a-penny these days in Manchester, however there’s generally less in the way of new arrivals focused on beer. The latest opening is The Brink, a micropub located in the heart of the city centre, that opened quietly and without too much of a fanfare earlier this month.
Whitby is without a doubt one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever visited in the UK. From the stunning drive across the North York Moors on the way and that glorious first glimpse of Whitby Abbey and the sea beyond, I was enchanted and spent most of my time quite in awe of the beauty of the town. I mean, look at it!
It’s somewhere I’d always wanted to go, especially as Dracula is one of my favourite books, so Ross took us off on a weekend for my birthday. Once we started researching the pub situation in the town, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that there were plenty of places worth a visit as well as a brewery (called, unsurprisingly, Whitby Brewery). Now, this isn’t a definite guide to Whitby’s pubs as there were plenty we didn’t get to, but more than enough for a weekend’s visit!
I must confess; I don’t spend nearly as much time as I should do in Liverpool and I’m not as knowledgeable about the city’s beer scene as I could be. As I was staying at my parents’ house in Southport over Christmas, I took a few trips to Liverpool for some day drinking to explore some new (to me) venues and visit some old favourites.
One of Manchester’s biggest beer festivals has returned – and it’s bigger (and better) than ever. After two years at the velodrome near the City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester and Beer Cider Festival has moved to Manchester Central (aka GMEX). Although the move didn’t seem to be an ideal situation for the organisers (especially as it costs significantly more to hire the venue), it’s worked out well for the event.
There are two main advantages – a central location and a better layout. Getting the tram up to the velodrome was always a bit of a pain so being right next to a city centre Metrolink stop does make the journey there and back much easier. In terms of the layout, all of the bars are in one place and you don’t have to traipse up and down flights of stairs to get everywhere.
The 2016 event also has another significant differentiating feature – the key-keg bar. Previous years did feature some keg beer on the international bar, this is a huge leap forward for CAMRA to welcome keg beer, albeit only certain keg beer, at one of their festivals. I’d heard it wasn’t popular among some of the more, shall we say, old school members of the organisation, but it just seems a decision that makes sense – if you cater for all beer lovers, you’ll get more customers. Indy Man Beer Con 2015 had something similar with the addition of cask beer, so it’s great that festival organisers are trying to cater for a variety of tastes.
In terms of the other beer on offer, the international bar has also grown significantly. Previous years often focused on German and Belgian beers, but 2016 also includes breweries from Denmark (Amager), Sweden (Omnipollo) and even a couple from New Zealand. Spanish beer is also featured due to a link up with the Barcelona Beer Festival – another progressive move from CAMRA. As a result of this partnership, BBF will include a Manchester bar with 24 beers from the city being sent over – a nice idea. And I can’t not mention the British cask beer: there are 471 British beers from 170 breweries. Enough to keep everyone happy.
Overall, it’s a great event and the organisers have done a fantastic job. I feel that they’ve taken feedback on board from previous years – I didn’t spot any sexist t-shirts on sale, for example – and organised a festival that keeps both the real ale purists and the craft beer drinkers happy. The only criticisms I have are minor; it’s a bit chilly in there (but it’s a huge venue and a former railway station so I assume fairly difficult to heat), the food offer isn’t the best for non-meat eaters (although they’re selling the wonderful Karkli which is just about the best beer snack of all time),and it doesn’t appear that there’s anywhere to get a glass of tap water (the bar I asked at didn’t have drinking water, at least – maybe some of the others do). We also did move seats at one point as we were sat across from some gents making some fairly sexist/out-dated comments – not directed at me, I should point out – which did ruin the atmosphere a bit and show that maybe not everyone is as progressive as the organisers are trying to be…
These minor points aside, it’s a well-organised festival with some exciting and interesting beers to try – and I’m looking forward to a return visit on Friday.
Southport is one of my favourite places, but I could be slightly biased as it is my hometown. When I was younger, having a beer in Southport usually meant a pint of Fosters or sometimes even Guinness before heading to the rock night they used to have at Fubar or the indie club now known as Alpine. But, now that I don’t live there, I enjoy the odd trip to my parents’ and heading out on the town much more than I did when I was younger. This is probably because the options have significantly improved, thanks to two openings in particular. Here’s a look at five places I like to go in Southport town centre.