Monday, 29 January 2018

Fear Beers

For avid travellers, both Tom and I are massive scaredy cats. You'd think an aeroplane engineer would be fine in the sky, but he's not a fan of aviation once it leaves the ground. I'm much worse - arriving at Manchester Airport train station fills me with dread and things don't get much better until I arrive at my destination. If you ever have the misfortune of finding yourself sat beside me on a flight, just ignore me. I'll be crying silently for the most part but essentially, I'm fine.

The one and only thing you can do to make yourself a pro plane user is to do it more often, and with alcohol, so we were brave and for a joint birthday present caught a cheap Ryanair to Dublin. To ease our nerves, the owner of The Ale House in Clitheroe gave us three fortifying beers on the proviso that I review them for him. So that's exactly what I'm doing.

Birthday beers are the best beers (there are also some excellent Cissy Green pies in the white bag. I get the best birthday presents!)

Beavertown x Verdant - Shut Up and Play the Hits Double IPA 8.8%

The first thing I said after taking a sip was "Ooh, it feels silky." And I wasn't making it up, it really does have a smooth and silky mouthfeel, like good red wine. I'm understanding that this is because of the oats involved in the brewing process, please correct me if I'm wrong.

A fresh, green (Tom says not to use the word green as it's a beer insult? But I am using it in a purely artistic fashion to denote young shoots and unfurling leaves, touched by light droplets of rain. So please don't take offence,) slightly resinous and sappy beer, mossy and fragrant. I'm taking a liberty here but I'm guessing all of these naturalistic, earthy plant-based flavours and aromas are Verdant's influence since all of their beers have a whiff of the outdoors to me. It also kindof reminded me of Dobber by Marble Brewery, which can only be a good thing. It also holds its ABV really well, with sweetness that was definite but not overpowering.

Can I just say as well, what an excellent can this has. Skeletons playing beach ball and having loads of fun, which for me is a perennial mood. Don't ever change, Beavertown!

Roosters - Scrambler Watermelon Pale Ale 4%

This is, as any self-respecting 1970s northern darts player would say, a bobby dazzler. Before I cracked it open I half-expected it to be a thick and oozy juicer, but it turned out to be an almost sarcastically refined, light and delicately fruity helles-style pale lagery delight. My bad, I know, it says "pale ale" not "dank af westcoast IPA," but it was still like seeing Dimebag Darrel sitting down to a baby grand to play mellifluous cocktail jazz. We kept passing it back and forth on the train for tiny sips, doing equally tiny laughs at this magic drink we'd discovered.

It's not all watermelon though. There's a fun level of hoppy complexity, with a crisp, dry aftertaste. No doubt it'll be in the running for my favourite beer of the summer. (Would it make a good michelada? Now that's a good and valid question.) 

Roosters x Magic Rock  - Northern Powerhouse 4.5%

Tom, not scared, outside Manchester Airport T3

Of course having these two breweries clubbing together is an obvious marker for success, so there's not much to say except this is really nice. It's a lovely easy drinker with a good level of bitterness that nips at your tongue and perceived sweetness from the hops that makes it all-round a very good egg indeed. Tom said I had to put "perceived sweetness" because he vehemently disagreed with me. He said it's not sweet. I say it isIt's quite a lot like Neck Oil, which is by no means a criticism on my part. Neck Oil is one of the best craft beers of our time imo; any recipe coming close to it deserves a pat on the back.

By the time we'd finished it, it was time to check our bags in and head to the frankly awful bar in Terminal 3, so its lingering memory tasted all the sweeter. Our final drink before heading over the top, to no-man's-land. Goodbye world.

(We arrived safely and on time in Dublin three hours later. I can be quite dramatic about airports.)

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Purity, Truth and Love - Mr. Fitzpatrick's lasting reminder of Lancashire's dry heritage

As far as I know, there's no person more virtuous than the designated driver. A selfless individual who puts others' pleasures ahead of their own, they and they alone ensure the safe homeward journey of their inebriated friends and colleagues. They take drunken conversations in their stride and never roll their eyes at the suggestion of another lime and soda. Their joy is drawn not from the depths of a keg, but from the vibrant melee of human interaction, frothing with comradery and grateful offerings of pork scratchings. A knight, a king. A saviour.

At least, that's how I feel now that I've decided to play the role more often. It feels good, being a martyr.

This warm feeling of self-righteousness is no-doubt what drove the Temperance movement to set up a lobby against the demon drink, here in Lancashire of all places. Keen to rid the world of hangovers, the men and women of the Temperance Society - mainly Methodists - took to the streets with a message of purity and abstinence. To their minds, alcohol was the root cause of laziness, crime, avoidance of religious duties and moral degradation. Booze had a lot to answer for in the post-industrial world.

(EDIT: Steve from Beer Nouveau - a brewery on Temperance Street, Manchester, no less - has helpfully shared an article about the current wherabouts of the Temperance movement. Spoiler alert - they're not quietly minding their own business.

To tempt booze-loving Lancastrians away from their favourite inns, the society began to take hold of the high-street, remodelling tea houses, corner shops and chemists into Temperance Bars. Branded as the sort of places children could be safe in, these year-round #dryjan temples sold health and vigour in thick, sticky syrups, pushing homeopathic medicines and the goodness of fresh air and cold water to a Northern nation of overworked lower classes. It took decades for the halo to tarnish, and in fact there are vestiges of the movement clinging to our left shoulder still: Vimto was created to compete with American Sarsaparilla, and was still bestowing nondescript "vim" and deliciousness to me in my Nana's kitchen in 1993.

One such last vestige of the Victorian Temperance society is Mr. Fitzpatrick's Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall, East Lancashire. It's quite a famous place, featuring periodically on food and drink programmes as a sort-of historical curiosity. It's the last remaining Temperance bar in the UK, and was owned by the Fitzpatricks until 1980. Now, it's a well-visited hotspot, held up by a strong loyal patronage from the local community. It also has some pretty iconic branding; vintage, but authentically so. Dandelion and Burdock pretenders, take note.

The collective cultural memory of Rawtenstall and all the towns exactly like it in this, my area of the country, is one of damp cobbles, leaking drainpipes, hardware shops, old ladies in long tweed coats, steep lines of terraced houses, endless bus journeys and limited hours of sunlight. I mean, you're not wrong, but you're also a little bit patronising. The North as a cliché exists for a reason, admittedly, but on stepping out into Rawtenstall on a frankly frigid January Saturday, we weren't met by a colliery band or an army of old men in flat caps. Instead, a brand new town centre development (costing upwards of £20 million, according to several hysterical local news stories) commanded our attention. Involving a new bus station, bars, a cinema and even, perhaps inevitably, a microbrewery, it was quiet but undeniable proof that no matter how deep you travel into the valleys of Lancashire, redevelopment is happening everywhere. Yes, the chimneys still loom over us, but now they're sandblasted and Grade II listed.

Turn away from the town centre, and you'll soon come across the Temperance bar. Don't be fooled by its tiny frontage - the owners here will go to overwhelming lengths to accommodate you and your parched throat. Plus, there's more seating hidden upstairs.

You'll be given a full explanation of the menu and offered tastes of everything that interests you. A pair sat beside us had a tabletop full of shot glasses and a distinctly Black Forest herbal aroma. Despite appearances, their poison wasn't Jaegermeister but Sarsaparilla and Root Beer sipped undiluted. Takes all sorts.

Mr Fitzpatrick's OG mixtures have been brewed since 1836 and as far as anyone is willing to reveal, the recipes haven't changed since the family moved to England in 1899. The menu is extensive, with these fabulous Fitzpatrick cordials at the centre of it all. Served hot, cold, fizzy, as an ice-cream sauce or in a float, it's actually hard to miss the booze. They've even got a draft tap, albeit for soda water.

The table to the right was a group of kids, who drank a milkshake each and argued bitterly about who was allowed to pay the bill.
I chose a cold fizzy Rhubarb and Rosehip, which was unreasonably delicious. Yes, it would be sensational with a dash of vodka, but alone it was totally passable as a social drink. I also picked a Hot Temperance Toddy, which is Blood Tonic, lemon and honey. I was immediately cured of every illness  known to Western medicine and could suddenly sing in a perfect soprano. (In case you were wondering, this gruesome sounding drink is actually a blend of raspberries, rosehips and nettles, among a good few other secret and no-doubt beneficial ingredients.)

As well as a cheap round, you can buy cakes and snacks at the bar. I was led astray by a blackboard and ordered a strawberry jam butty, to which the proprietress exclaimed "Good on yer, lass!" and everybody in the room eyed me jealously while I basked in the glory of an order well made. If there's one thing I love, it's being highly commended for eating. My lunch arrived cut into triangles - perfect. Cynics would call this the commodification and fetishisation of normal, quaintly wholesome activities like eating a jam sandwich. All I know is that I bought a big jar of strawberry jam yesterday so I can live off them at home.

My favourite thing, about Mr Fitzpatrick's is that it's historical without going on about it. You're not sat in a mini apothecary, surrounded by faux artefacts or bombarded with over-the-top vintage decor based on a theme of moustaches and penny farthings. There's a brightly-polished copper hot water dispenser from the old Rawtenstall Astoria Ballroom and authentic bits and bobs here and there. There's no bunting. The sweets are for eating, not display. The toilet is a Victorian-style chain flush at the top of a wonky staircase. It's pleasingly real, charmingly old-fashioned and genuinely fun to be in. And what more does anyone ask of a local?

Although Mr. Fitzpatrick's was once a chain of Temperance bars found across the North West, the Rawtenstall location I visited in this post is the only one that remains. Visit to find out more.