Sunday, May 9, 2010

Of Mancs and Men

73 Rochdale Road, aka Marble Arch, aka The ThunderDome

Two and a half weeks into my Mancunian expedition and it feels like ages. In a good way, of course. (Have I reported any misadventures? I feel like I should be adding some brewhouse drama in the mix. But breweries aren't very dramatic places. Unless a tank implodes.) I'm feeling more and more comfortable in the brewery, though I'm still peppering the guys with more questions than you'd find in a philosophy class. The other day Dom took me through another brew session. (I've been on a rotation of assisting the brew, washing casks, racking casks, loading the van for deliveries, labeling, cleaning vessels, and eating my way through Jan's refrigerator) I hovered around him like a midge, took notes in my little black book with my prized gold-plated Cross (which Dom stole to melt down into a nipple ring) stirred some mash here and scooped out some hops there. The note-taking process was especially helpful to synthesize all the tiny but critical steps involved in brewing, the ones involving weaving pipework and rates of flow and everything, and it felt a bit like school again though more gratifying. Earlier this week James guided me through a brew of Pint at the larger brewery down the road. This new brewery was designed to reflect the processes up the road, but the scale change complicates a few subtle but important steps. Just takes some getting-used-to.

Tiny view of the new brewery: mash tun and copper

I've also been out on a delivery run with Richard, the fourth and final brewery drone whose main job is the daily cask and bottle run around the region. We zipped around the Greater Manchester Area in the silver dented Marble van, stopping at a dozen or so pubs, bars, restaurants, bottle shops, and even a couple country clubs, rolling out the casks and chucking them down cellars or through windows if they got in the way. All the accounts coughed up money or a check, apparently a rarity, and I like to think I acted as a good imitator, standing behind Rich with my arms crossed and lips pursed. Rich was probably plenty of intimidation just because he's massive - about 6' 6" and fully bearded. In all, I think I prefer brewing to deliveries, unless I had a stellar audiobook to get through. Back in the brewery I was allowed another morsel of responsibility and independence. On Friday Colin was off and James was in a meeting with Jan, so Dom was left with a hovering apprentice and enough work for four people. He decided to take charge of the brew down the road, at the new brewery, and send me up to the pub to transfer some beer from fermenter to condition tank. It was all very exciting for me, but instead of geeking out on all the details, like explaining how to sanitize a tank and minimize yeast transfer, I'll just say it went smoothly. No pumps were shredded and the beer sits happily in its new sealed tank, chilled and settling nicely before it must be racked into casks.

Mmm... beer.

In other news, I learned how to cook a chicken today. I've also found a barn-burner of an Irish session at a pub called the Jolly Angler. Each Saturday about ten musicians play to a packed pub crowd, standing room only, and the tunes roll on and on instead of being interrupted by Guinness breaks or apathy. When I asked a plump fiddler if she'd be back again the next week, same time, I was replied with, "Well, yes. ...Why, you goin' ta burgle my house?" I'm also very much looking forward to eating swimming pools of curry. There's a strip of town called Curry Mile that I'm afraid might become my second home. I might try street life on Curry Mile.

A bit more beer news: I've been meeting a lot of interesting beerful people and hearing about a lot of beerish buzz around the UK, but one particular potentially nifty event that Marble will take part in is an online beer tasting event organized by two familiar names in the beer world: Podge and Tim Webb. I'm still not sure how it'll work, but I'm guessing it'll be something like a mix between a conference call, a Skype session, and, well, people drinking beer by themselves at home. I believe it'll center around Belgian-inspired British beers and Marble's Decadence Kriek and/or Framboise will be sacrificed. Podge hosts tours of Belgium for beer lovers and Tim Webb writes about beer, including the Good Beer Guide: Belgium that I've toted around for the last eight months and dog-eared to death. Another excitement at Marble is the recent opening of a third location. The Marble empire consists of the original, historic brewpub, the cozy Beer House in Chorlton, and now the more central, hip location that the young crowd will flock to. Here the beards and sandals will be worn not by musty, pot-bellied CAMRA elders, but by 25-year-old pot-bellied hipsters. Ah, the cycle of life.

Mr. Official next to the kitchen and back dining area

I've just heard some exciting news. (I write these entries bit by bit. It takes me about a week of chipping away to finally muster strength to publish one.) This weekend I'll be joining a group of serious beer bloggers on a dream tour of Burton-Upon-Trent. Yep, that place with the weird water that makes a lovely pale ale. Dom worked his magic and pulled the ol' switcheroo to get me in his place as he's got a busy weekend. You can check out the agenda here; apparently we're visiting a maltings, a couple breweries, several pubs, and a museum. The good folks that are going are some of the most prolific, respected beer bloggers and enthusiasts in the UK. I'm really just a poser compared to them, a phony with the beer knowledge of a dollop of salmon paté. I will enjoy it wholeheartedly, though, and do my duty by blogging about it afterwards.

Just a sweet photo of Colin and Janine at Thornbridge

And, of course, another update would not be complete without a few words on the progress of my scheming. I'm now officially in the works for a few weeks at Thornbridge. I believe I'll be staying above the Coach and Horses pub (see last entry), biking it to work, and hopefully providing them with some worthwhile labor in return for their patience in putting up with me. If I grunt loud enough when I move casks it might convince them. I'll fake a hernia, that's what I'll do.

In the spirit of Garrison Keillor: Be well, do good work, and keep reading my blog.


  1. if dom wasn't with Janine id swear he batted for the other team ;o)

  2. what a big girl's blouse, am i right??