East West Fest 2017 – Small is Beautiful

Sometimes – just sometimes – the planets align. Beer, venue & people. All together. In perfect harmony.

Last weekend was one of those occasions.

It was immensely flattering for ISBF to be the inspiration for a select little Northern beer festival. One making a feature of The War of the Roses, Lancashire v Yorkshire joined in beery battle formation. It was also quite humbling to be asked to source the breweries from (predominantly) the Manchester area.

This was the third year. And whilst I’ve enjoyed the previous two hugely, this one was elevated. By people. And by some simply exceptional beer.

This is the little event that made me realise that – so far as beer events are concerned – small is beautiful. I really struggle with beer extravaganzas like IMBC & MBCF. I crave intimacy, events where it’s as much about the atmosphere, the people, the chat and fun. And this event has “it”. That indefinable quality that just makes it special.

Previously, myself and Jaz have been both years. I have waxed lyrical about both events and was thrilled that some beery buddies read what I wrote. And felt it worth a punt. To the extent that they decided they’d make a night of it and stay over. No pressure there then….

I knew that some of them would get there before I did. And had to suffer drooling message after message, trying beers. Taunting.

8 came over the Pennines. 5 of those for the very first time, on the back of my constant wibbling about it. It works for me, but would it for them?

I needn’t have worried. The smiles, laughter, the outright surrealism. Inspired by the venue – being a big red shed – the tremendous beer list (skewed a little towards the stronger stuff….) and just the sheer friendliness….. I for one haven’t had such a good time at any beer festival. Period.

Over the period of the days, all of the beers in the small (20 beers) list were tried. Several repeatedly. And with that select number of beers, there were no false steps – which is unusual at any beer festival. If pushed to single out a few, my choices for the best beers would be unusual. In that I generally prefer session beers. My favourites were the three strongest beers available.

Canadian Maple Brown by Black Jack / Drygate : I actually turned up on the brewday for this and was intrigued by at least one of the ingredients. Fresh made waffles! Created,  then chucked in the mash. It was a beer that I shouldn’t love, but it was astonishingly good! The flavours of waffles and maple syrup led to a slightly smoky sweetness, but it just WORKED so well.

May Day 2017 (aka “The Jaz Killer”) by Five Towns (our host!)  An 8.4% Pale Ale (we called it the DIPA) that was unbelievablely drinkable, fruity, bitter and just ooooh… Mango and apricot. Balanced bitterness. Utterly lush. And the base for some ludicrous Black and Tan action later…

Sorachi Stout – Squawk Brewing : I was there at the birth and another beer that simply rocks my world. At 7.1% abv, this beer confirms all of my thinking about Sorachi Ace. It just works so well in big Stouts. Oli Turton put an awful lot of this most schizophrenic of hops into this brew. And it’s bloody gorgeous. So smooth, with the Sorachi bringing its more coconut A game. Tremendous.

My actual favourite beer though was a blend.

I’ve developed a reputation for somewhat ludicrous “Black and Tans” over the last year or so amongst my friends. But by 9 on the Friday evening we were all at it.

Work the Five Towns May Day forming the Pale half of each blend, various dark roasty partners were tried with surprisingly excellent results. The Black Jack Canadian Maple Brown was utterly lush when paired with the DIPA, but my personal favourite, was with the Sorachi Stout. A mere 7.1% abv Stout meets an 8.4% Pale. Transcendant. Just beautiful. I had more than one – to put it mildly….

Next morning, a stroll was in order.

The Black Rock – Bread Street.

This 18th century beer house is a thing of beauty. And – a Brucie bonus – was open early when we had time to kill waiting for a train (for 3 of our rabble).

In brief, it’s a beautiful old open plan pub. Loads of wood. Am old drinking soul, precisely the kind of venue that tugs at my hearts strings. And (even better) it had a beautiful refreshing Oakham Citra to wash away the lingering flavour of breakfast.

The pub was recommended by some good judges locally. They were right.

Wakefield Beer Exchange – Bull Ring

Directly opposite the Black Rock – despite being listed on a different street – this place is as modern as the Black Rock is old. But it works just as well.

Opened by some of the guys behind Revolutions of Castleford in December 2015, this bar has already earned its spurs in the Wakefield beer scene. 6 cask lines matched up against 6 keg means you’ll get something delicious. I went for Candidate by Revolutions (when in Rome). Joy Division track reference, refreshing Pale Ale. As is standard with Revs.

The Beer Exchange is a single roomed bar that would slot into any vacant Manchester NQ space and thrive. Clean lines, plenty of tables, great beer, top tunes, good gin selection. Great place.

3 of our band of brothers headed back over the hill – one, to the disappointment of being beaten in a Super League defeat at home by (irony of….) Wakefield Wildcats. Sorry* Deeekos.


We headed to

The Hop – Bank Street.

What you get caught up with these pubs operated by Ossett Brewery (there’s one in Leeds – inside the railway “Dark Arches”), it’s a range of Ossett group beers (Rat, Fernandes, Riverhead etc) in a minimalist brick lined building, live music and a bit of quirkiness.

I like both that I’ve been in. And the Fernandes Pale was excellent.

I also like this….

Yup. A pub, with internal access to a kebab shop. They’ve thought of everything!

And this…..

“What’re you talking a photo of THAT for?”

Because it’s Ian ******g Curtis. A Mancunian musical legend. And I saw him live, 37 goddamned years ago.

Obviously a few quid spent on The Hop. And it’s worth it.

Finally, penultimate stop for the remaining four of us..

Fernandes Tap – Avison Yard

I’ve lived this place from the first moment I set foot. If it had opened earlier, it would have been the first stop, but being just around the corner from the Red Shed (don’t call it the Labour Club when ordering a cab…).

The photo says it all – other than the fact that there is a second (continental) bar downstairs.

Again, a lovely light Fernandes Session IPA. The job. Done.

And then, it was back to The Red Shed. To cover the bases we hadn’t before.

To drink more 8.4% May Day. More Sorachi Stout & Canadian Maple Brown. More Black and Tans…. More genuine fun. And, being all for charity, just made it even more, you know.

I haven’t laughed so much since….

It’s my favourite beer festival. I think it’s Jaz’s too. I was worried that the others – having spent almost a weekend there – wouldn’t like it. That my judgement was flawed because of my personal attachment. But, I think, they got it.

And I think that they might be paying a return visit next May.

And – just for that little bit of surrealism…

No squirrels were harmed in the creation of this blog. (A time & place thing…)