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The Beers of Summer

This last few weeks I have enjoyed some fine beers, quite often against a backdrop of warm, sunny weather.

We had a trip to Manchester a few weeks ago, which involved negotiating some of the wonderful pubs in the Northern Quarter. The weather was hot and sunny, which meant we were able to sit out at the Angel and the Marble Arch, and enjoy a stand in the lovely yard at the back of Bar Fringe. We sampled some superb beers from the likes of Marble, Hawkshead, and Salopian. The beer of the trip for me though was Duel from Blackjack, which was on offer at their tap, the Smithfield on Swan Street. We also visited the Micro Bar in the Arndale Centre, where I had it confirmed that Boggart, who had been brewing in the city since 2000, had closed down. Sad news, but a reminder that despite the boom in new breweries there is another side to the picture. Sadly, Boggart fell behind as some of these new breweries, even just in Manchester, came along with beers that were more in keeping with the big flavours demanded by the generation of new ale drinkers - breweries like the afore-mentioned Blackjack, Track, and Squawk.

Despite the warm, at times hot, weather, the football season is now with us and Halifax Town are back in the National League North after relegation last season, which means there are some fine, reasonably local trips, to look forward to. We kicked off with the traditional pre-season friendly at Brighouse, handy for me of course. Pre-match we went to the Cock of the North at Hipperholme, home of the Halifax Steam Brewery. This is a unique place, a pre-fabricated building which took a long time to gain planning permission when it was proposed by previous owner Dave Earnshaw. Now in the safe hands of Sam, ably supported by brewer Richard, this is a pleasant place to while away an hour or two. Outside there is a lovely beer garden, and alongside is a small caravan site. And at the August Bank Holiday weekend, they have their Rock of the North event, with a beer festival and live music. Well worth checking out.

The season proper started at Nuneaton, which in itself has not a lot to attract the casual visitor. But a mile or two out of town we visited an excellent pub, the Lime Kilns at Burbage, just outside Hinckley. This is on the A5, so easy to find, and alongside the Ashby Canal, and we headed for the large canalside beer garden where we enjoyed some fine beers from the Marstons stable and some excellent home-cooked food as several barges passed by. It was a perfect summer's day, helped by Town's subsequent 3-2 win.

During this week we were at Stockport, where I decided as I only work a few miles away, I would stay over. That afforded me the chance to try one or two local pubs that I hadn't been in before. Stockport is a wonderful town for pubs and the home of Robinsons Brewery, but even though I had spent a lot of the time in the town when I was younger, I hadn't visited the town or the football club for years. I stayed at the Premier Inn beside the Buxton Road and from there it was just short of a mile to the football ground. I walked to the Fairway, which is in the Beer Guide. Pleasant enough, but a bit lacking in character. From there I headed to the Armoury at Shaw Heath, a typical Robinsons local where I met the lads and enjoyed a pint of Unicorn Bitter as we conducted our match preview.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw, the lads headed back over the Pennines, and I wandered down to The Olde Vic. If any pub deserves the description 'quirky' this is it. Surrounded by high-rise flats and tucked away behind the station, it is a traditional pub full of bric-a-brac and all kinds of random stuff. The punters were a mixed bunch, friendly and discerning, the landlord affable. Only 2 beers were on, it looked like some of the other pumps had been hammered by the pre-match crowd. I had an excellent pint of a brown beer from Anarchy, the name of which escapes me. A pub well worth seeking out.

I headed back up the hill towards the hotel. Just over the road from there is situated a fine old traditional Robinsons pub called The Blossoms. A multi-roomed establishment, it was quite full for a Tuesday evening. I bought a pint of Dizzy Blonde, and settled down to watch the tail-end of the omnium at the Olympics. As well as serving some excellent beers, the pub's other claim to fame is the fact that the indie band of the moment, who all originate from the locality, take their name from the pub.

I have also enjoyed some fine beers particularly at the Market Tavern in Brighouse, whose beer garden is an absolute delight, and the Cross Keys at Siddal, which had an excellent beer festival last weekend matched by some wonderful sunny weather. This weekend we have the Brighouse Canal, Beer, and Music Festival, which will be fantastic if the past 2 years are anything to go by. And then there's Rock of the North to look forward to in a couple of weeks! Happy Days!

And the beers of summer? A toss up between Salopian Lemon Dream, and any one of the excellent beers from Vocation....


The Lime Kilns, Leicestershire

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