Friday, 17 June 2022

Stockport(er) in the sunshine

After a three year break because of Covid, Stockport Beer and Cider Festival kicked off at Edgeley Park football ground with a trade session yesterday afternoon.

A couple of things had changed since my last visit to the home of the Hatters back in the summer of 2019: Stockport County are now a Football League club again, and the Cheadle End where the festival is held has been redeveloped, although the concourse under the stand where the bars are wasn't as different as I'd expected.

I drank mostly darker, stronger beers - Kirkstall X Mild, based on a recipe from 1885, Redwillow Heritage Porter and Stockport Stock Porter - as well as Kerala IPA from the former Howard Town, now Distant Hills Brewery, in Glossop. I also popped to the bottled beer bar in one of the function rooms at the top of the stand, whose temporary licence now allows off sales, and picked up a couple of my favourite smoked German lager Schlenkerla.

On the way back to the station we popped into the Olde Vic, somewhere else I hadn't been to for a few years, and had a pint in the beer garden there. One of Stockport's first freehouses and a longtime Good Beer Guide pub, it seemed to be doing a decent post-festival trade.


Saturday, 11 June 2022

Going green with Stella

I finally succumbed to the advertising this week and picked up a few green labelled bottles of the new unfiltered Stella Artois from the supermarket.

First of all a confession: at the risk of shredding my beer credentials, I quite enjoy normal Stella and have drunk it in cans and bottles at parties and while watching sports events on TV and on draught in keg only pubs. Like a few other - mostly German - mass market pils (Becks, Radeberger, Warsteiner) it still has some hoppiness and isn't as sweet or gassy as certain Australian, French and Canadian brands.

Unfiltered Stella isn't actually that different, maybe slightly cloudier, but with no yeast deposit at the bottom of the bottle. Like the normal, filtered Stella, it's brewed under licence here, but at 5% rather than 4.6% abv (still slightly weaker than the 5.2% Belgian brewed beer which I've occasionally seen bottles of in local off licences).

Thursday, 26 May 2022

O Caledonia

Heineken is to shut the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh, leaving the Scottish capital without a large brewery for the first time since the eighteenth century (a host of English cities are in the same position, including Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Nottingham, and London might ultimately join them following the Asahi takeover of Fuller's). 

Founded in 1869 by George Lorimer and Robert Clark, Caledonian has passed through a number of hands since, being acquired by Sunderland's now defunct Vaux Brewery in 1939 and Scottish and Newcastle in 2004, not long before S&N were themselves taken over by the Dutch megabrewer Heineken in 2008.

As part of the S&N/Heineken portfolio, Caledonian's Deuchars IPA became a nationally distributed brand - at one point, it seemed to be on the bar of every Wetherspoons pub you went in - and still ranks in the top ten cask beers by sales.

Caledonian beers will now be contract brewed at the Greene King-owned Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar, although I wouldn't be surprised if, like Manchester's Boddingtons Bitter, they eventually embark on an odyssey of multinational breweries where once famous regional beers eke out a strange half life in keg or cask form.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Only Connect

Since the start of the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, I've contributed a few bits and pieces to a local history website. One of the things that has emerged from the discussions on the Facebook page related to it is the link between farming in the area and the Stockport brewery Robinson's.

William Robinson was born in Northenden, then a farming village on the southern bank of the Mersey in north Cheshire, in 1800. In 1838, he bought the Unicorn Inn, built on Lower Hillgate, Stockport, in 1722, which he'd been landlord of since 1826. He left the pub in the hands of his son George in the mid eighteen forties, after the death of his first wife, remarried and moved to High Grove Farm in Heald Green, where he owned 41 acres (see the 1841 tithe map and 1851 census below). George brewed the first Robinson's beer in the backyard of the Unicorn in 1849 and became the licensee in 1850, relinquishing it in 1859 when his younger brother Frederic took over. The pub closed at the end of 1935 and was then demolished to make way for an extension of the brewery, with a plaque now marking the spot on the wall of the brewery yard (let's hope it survives the upcoming sale of the site when brewing moves to Robinson's bottling and canning plant in Bredbury).

There is still a Robinson's Farm in the Heald Green area, although I don't know if it's linked to the William Robinson who started the Stockport pub and brewing company in the late eighteen thirties and farmed here in the eighteen forties and fifties.  I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by the connection between farming and brewing given that the process begins by mashing malted barley.

Census returns from The History of Robinson's Brewery by Dr Lynn F. Pearson, 1997

Sunday, 8 May 2022

(S)pot the difference

A photo popped up yesterday in an online Manchester history group I belong to of a mustard pot almost certainly connected to the large community of German cotton merchants and factory owners that flourished in the city in the nineteenth century, the best known of whom was Marx's pal/financer Friedrich Engels (the foundations of the Albert Club, Chorlton-on-Medlock, named after the German prince who married Queen Victoria, where he drank Pilsner beer with other emigrés in between riding to hounds with the Cheshire Hunt, were discovered in the course of building works a few years ago).

As you can see from the images below, it's pretty similar in shape to the one I snapped the last time I was in the Rhineland in 2015 in Brauerei Schumacher near Düsseldorf's central station (the pub where I finally got to drink a glass of Altbier on my first trip there in 2009).

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

A view from the bridge

One of my old school friends has just posted some images online from an exhibition he's involved with in Wigan, including the photo below taken outside Central Park rugby league ground in the early eighties.

My grandmother grew up with her uncle and auntie in a pub in Wigan, and after he died worked with her in a sweet shop near Central Park which later became a souvenir shop for the rugby league club. As kids in the seventies, we visited the sweet shop and then walked into the ground through an open exit gate and stood on the empty terraces.

So many questions spring to mind when looking at the photo of the people enjoying a free, if obstructed, view of the pitch: can they no longer afford to pay for admission to the ground at the turnstiles? (unemployment was rising sharply then, especially in the North West); have they stopped to watch the whole match, or just briefly on the way to or from somewhere else, like the guy on the bike?; has the yellow plastic traffic cone just fallen over in the road, or been kicked over for some reason?; what do the spectators on the adjacent terracing think of those watching the action for nothing?

Friday, 18 March 2022

Strangeways Here We Come

Channel 5 showed a documentary last night about the 1990 Strangeways prison riot.

The month long sit-in on the roof of the massively overcrowded Victorian gaol just north of Manchester city centre, during which much of the fabric of the building was destroyed, became something of an attraction, both locally and for the national media, sparking a debate about prison conditions, and leading to some improvements at the rebuilt and renamed HMP Manchester when it reopened in 1994 (notably toliets in the cells), although those who organised the protest ended up spending many more years behind bars as a result of it. One of them, already serving a life sentence, described the experience of emerging on the roof above the rotunda, overlooking the tower which was popularly, but wrongly, thought to have housed the gallows before hanging was abolished (it's actually a ventilation shaft), seeing the outside world for the first time in almost a decade and feeling human again (the other iconic landmark on the Strangeways skyline, the chimney of Boddingtons Brewery, finally came down in 2010, three years after the rest of the building was demolished).

Among the other changes at the new HMP Manchester was a ban on prison officers belonging to far right groups, before which National Front badges had been worn openly on the wings, and the closure of the social club where some of them drank heavily at dinnertime.

The prison population has increased dramatically since the 1990s and now stands above eighty thousand, so that, despite the privately-run HMP Forest Bank opening in Salford in 2000, on the site of the former Agecroft power station, as another local prison and remand facility, Strangeways has again become dangerously overcrowded and is still a place where prisoners are merely contained rather than rehabilitated.