‘Common’ is a bar that is located on Edge Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
Edge Street runs parallel and to the north of to the busier and trendier Thomas Street but is still host to a couple of interesting bars, including ‘Terrace’ which runs between Thomas Street and Edge Street.
I guess the easiest way to describe ‘Common’ is ‘6th Form Common Room Chic’. The décor is deliberately 6th form, although the artwork on the walls and windows is updated frequently, a bit like changing your PC’s desktop theme. It might look different but it’s essentially the same underneath.
As you might determine from the picture above, ‘Common’ seems to be growing, extending along Edge Street to nestle up to ‘Home Sweet Home’ – of which more another time.
My understanding is that ‘Common’ is owned and operated by the same team that run the excellent Port Street Beer House, of which more another time. This means that for all its grungy bohemian atmosphere, it does stock some excellent beers, there are about ten beer taps, which is more than most pubs.
It’s not uncommon (no pun intended) to see beers from brewers like Thornbridge, Red Willow and Kernel on tap, although they do have an irritating policy of serving the (ahem) more ‘robust’ brews in half pints. Okay, for younger punters I can understand, but I’m in my mid fifties for heaven’s sake, I know what I’m doing if I order a seven per cent beer.
The food is pretty good, they serve a reasonable selection of burgers, well cooked, and I have heard good reports of their Falafel, but cannot confirm this.
There’s music, although my experience on my visits it that it tends to be trancey stuff that seems to be written by the yard, but doubtless it caters to its core clientele. A clientele that is, for the most part, bohemian and trendy, many dressing ten or fifteen years younger than they probably ought.
There are a number of online and webby companies in the surrounding streets, so there’s WiFi in the bar, but heaven forfend anybody taking in a laptop that doesn’t have a glowing apple logo in its lid. The horror!
Common host live DJ’s at weekends (or so I understand), and a quiz on alternate Wednesdays. And while I enjoy quizzes, I once witnessed a round of “seventies and eighties children’s TV themes” and wouldn’t have scored a single point.
So while I am fully aware that I am NOT part of Common’s target audience, I find it a good place to stop off; the food’s good and, as I mentioned earlier, they usually have a good selection of interesting beers.
I don’t recall mentioning it here before, but over the last couple of years I’ve been writing reviews for The Brewclub, an American beer website.
Here in the UK we’re lucky enough to not only have some of the finest brewers and ales in the world, but we are also able to get beers from almost everywhere else. Over the last couple of years not only have I tasted excellent British beers, but also beers from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego.
But today the Scottish brewer ‘Brewdog’ announced a brew that I think I’ll pass on – “The End of History”.
They’ve declared that this is the last of their super strength beers – it’s brewed (and ice ‘distilled’) to 55% ABV (that’s eleven times the strength of premium lager), only twelve bottles have been made, and each bottle is ‘wrapped’ in a specially stuffed stoat or grey squirrel – and you’ll see from the picture that I’m not kidding.
One can only hope that the brew is more tasteful than the packaging.
Previously I’ve enjoyed Brewdog’s Tokyo Extra Stout brewed to 18.2% ABV, their Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% ABV) I enjoyed less.
This, to me is an ale too far, and I’ll pass.
Update – clearly there are people ‘out there’ with more money than taste… this very limited edition was sold out within 24 hours.
I don’t consider myself to be particularly naïve or innocent, but I confess that this lunchtime, I was shocked.
Let’s do some background… there is a bunch of commuters on my train every morning, they travel from somewhere beyond my stop and are comfortably ensconced by the time the commuters from my stop scramble onto the train to grab a seat. This group travel together every day and still find enough to engage themselves in conversation throughout the fifty minute journey. Every day. I have been known to resort to the iPod to drown out their prattle.
Today, I was enjoying a drink at lunchtime with a friend in the ‘Hung Drawn and Quartered’ pub near Tower Hill when one of this aforementioned group of commuters came in.
She’s mid forties I guess, I didn’t recognise him.
They sat at a table and started to review the menu before heading downstairs to the basement toilets.
“Big mistake,” I observed to my friend, “this place is filling up, they’re likely to lose that table.”
Which indeed they did.
Not that they were bothered at losing the table. I didn’t see whether he came back upstairs first, but she reappeared some twenty minutes later, wearing sunglasses, and immediately left the pub.
I suspect he came first.
Ive deliberately held back from posting for a while, being out of work and job-hunting makes it too too easy to write a blog saying “theres not much out there” or “the recruitment agencies don’t return calls”. So rather than clutter the blogosphere with such bleak ramblings I thought Id hold back until I had something to say.
Well, yesterday we went to Oxfordshire to catch up with Gaz, Nic and young Kalin. Latest pictures will be uploaded to the brag-blog page shortly. Gaz took us to a pub theyve recently discovered, The Bear at Home in North Moreton.
It was quite bizarre, I felt at home as soon as I walked in, and felt a feeling close to deja-vu.
The pub has a reasonable car park, a small garden – with a stile to the local cricket pitch – comfortable bar and a large function/family room.
It was in the function room that we camped ourselves, young Kalins probably a bit distracting for most pub goers, but it was comfortable, with dining tables and comfortable sofas – the large flat screen TV showing the Turkish Grand Prix was an unexpected bonus.
The food was tasty and freshly cooked on the barbecue outside, and the selection of beers was a very pleasant surprise, we started with Timothy Taylors Landlord and then moved on to try the Dark an excellent porter from the Lovibonds brewery in nearby Henley.
The bar was well attended with friendly bar staff and locals who all took the time to say Hello, or to pop their heads into the family room to check Jenson Buttons progress in the Grand Prix. I cant recall ever feeling quite so comfortable, quite so quickly in any pub.
I really believe that this is probably the best pub I have ever visited… and I concede that over the past 35 years Ive visited more than my fair share!
And as for that feeling of deja vu? Well according to the pubs own website here, in the 1980s the landlord was a certain Robert Massey… spooky eh?
Ive been writing beer reviews for some time now for The Brewclub, under the name BobtheBrit and in all modesty my reviews are quite well received. Ive enjoyed beer since I was old enough to drink it (legally of course) and The Brewclub gives me an example to seek out unusual brews.
Earlier this month I decided to start developing BobtheBrit as an idea, and have created a new website bobthebrit.net dedicated to explaining some of the things that make Britain so unique. As my friend Tom put it Demystifying Britain.
So… I will start populating the site with explanations about Britishness, take some time to call by and please feel free to suggest subjects for articles.
A few months ago I posted an entry commenting that my musings have made it to wikipedia, which I found quite flattering (the articles here if you missed it). Well this weekend I came across something that should be equally flattering but isnt.
For the last couple of months Ive been writing beer reviews for an American Beer website (The Brewclub) under the moniker Bob the Brit. We in The UK have a tremendous range of beers available to us, and I figure that I might be able to point our American friends in the direction of which beers to try and which to avoid.
A recent article I wrote reviewed the Leffe range of Belgian ales.
I was astonished when Scott, the publisher of The Brewclub sent me a link to The Gaia Resource which bills itself as The Best Green Resource on the Web. I wont post a link to them for reasons that will become clear; the Gaia Resource recycles, or more accurately steals, articles from elsewhere on the web. There, on the Gaia Resource was the first paragraph of my Leffe Review, admittedly with a link back to the original.
Amusingly, the site has terms and conditions for submissions which include “The articles that you submit must be your own work – You may not submit articles written by other authors and the content must be unique. No rebranded articles allowed”. An interesting moral standpoint.
I have long been cynical about the whole blogosphere, suggesting that much of what is written is noise and irrelevance, but what hope is there when posts get poached and propagated without the permission of the author?
I had never visited Belgium, Ive driven through it a few times en route to Germany, but Belgium doesnt exactly conjure up inspiratational thoughts. As the old joke goes, “can you name five famous Belgians?”
Unless youre a beer lover.
Belgium, as any beer afficianado will tell you, is home to Trappist and Lambic Ales, some of the most complex and challenging flavours ever atributed to a mixture of Barley, Hops, Yeast and Water. So while the conference subject might have been dry, I was confident my evenings wouldnt be.
A little online research directed me to a couple of bars, A La Mort Subite and Cafe Delirium, both affiliated to brews I have enjoyed of old. Cafe Delirium is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World records for having the largest selection of beers (over 2000) while its located opposite the Floris bar which stocks more than 300 varieties of Absinthe!
Our first evening in Brussels was spent exploring. My first beer was a large (500ml) Leffe Dark at about 6%, at a pavement café in the gras market. From there we located “A la Mort Subite” – a veritable temple to beer. While their range of beers is not vast, there were some interesting Lambic beers on draught. Lambic beers are brewed with wild yeasts and have a distinctive, slightly sour flavour. Later in the evening we found “Café Delirium” which is also named after a beer – in this case Delirium Tremens which comes in at a very respectable 9% abv. To be honest DT is a brewed for strength rather than flavour, but the cafe, which stocks over 2,000 beers is a must visit for any afficianado of beer. (Although maybe just for one or two beers.
The bar attached to my hotel, most hotels in fact, stocks Leffe as its house beer, so it was a pleasant stop for a nightcap. While its nice to have a local like The Curlew that serves Shepherd Neame beers, a local that serves Leffe on draught takes it to a whole new level.
We returned to Cafe Delirium a few evenings later and explored their extensive list of bottled beers. I had spotted Duchess du Burgogne in one of the many beer shops and decided it was time to revisit that particular duchess. I wasnt disappointed, and resolved to take a bottle home for a more disciplined tasting for The Brew Club an American website Ive started writing for.
The Belgians are well known for adding exotic flavours to their beers and when I spotted someone drinking a beer from a coconut shell I thought “Ill have some of that!” and yes, the beer “Mongozo” was light, refreshing and had a full coconut nose – imagine a Pina Colada shandy! And it was a fairtrade beer from Kenya so everybody wins.
The conference itself was really interesting, and Val amused herself during the days by exploring the Belgian chocolate shops, all in all we had a very pleasant break.
And as for five famous Belgians – umm – well how about Audrey Hepburn, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jacques Brel, Tin Tin and Hercule Poirot (and two of those were fictional!)
London hosted a different Beer event last week “Beer Exposed” (http://www.beerexposed.com) – this was a premium event featuring tutored tastings from some of the industrys best known names, representatives from some of Europes finest breweries and, perhaps most importantly, opportunities to sample the brews.
It cost around £14 to get into the event, but all the drinks were free to sample after admission. Admittedly most of the samples were on the small side, but there were plenty, and the admission fee included a half pint tasting goblet, programme and carrier bag. Most of the beers were also available to purchase to take home or for delivery.
I attended with two very good friends, Rick and Tom. Rick has a great palate and is a wine buff, where Tom and I regularly enjoy a few beers together. We chose the Friday lunchtime session as we figured it would be more civilised than an evening session.
The first stand we were presented with, on arrival, was Shepherd Neame. They had several ales on sample, including their autumnal beer Late Red and Canterbury Jack which I recall left me unimpressed back at the GBBF in August. I was quite relieved when both Rick and Tom shared my view… light, insubstantial and frankly bland.
From Shepherd Neame we worked our way through a number of interesting brewery stands including Duyck (who brew Jenlain which is probably my favourite beer), and some interesting lagers from further afield. We sampled Hue Beer from Vietnam, Pearl River Beer from Guangzhou, Bintang from Indonesia, Viru from Estonia, Cubanero from well, you can guess, and Moosehead from Canada.
It wasnt just lagers though, Dragon Stout from Jamaica had a stand, and Belgian Beers were well represented. While sampling Rodenbach I was explaining to Tom about the wild yeasts that give Lambic beers their unique sourness when the subject of dark lagers came up… Tom had never heard of dark lager, so we set out on a quest to find dark lagers.
We found several. Budweiser (the original from Ceske Budovice) had a stand featuring their dark lager, a Spanish example Alhambra, Bernard from the Czech Republic and Xingu from Brazil. My recollection is that the Xingu came out on top in this very unstructured tasting, with Bernard a close second. Sadly Tsing Tao from China hadnt brought their dark lager, but maybe next time.
We also enjoyed one of the tutored tastings with beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones (http://www.beeralewhatever.com/). During an interesting half an hour we sampled pale lagers through to stout, including Castel Lager, from Ethiopia – a first for me.
I lost count of the number of brews we sampled, but we probably only touched about half the brews on offer, and missed the American beers completely! Sadly our time had run out, each session at Beer Exposed is limited to four hours, but we discovered some fascinating brews which I plan to seek out in the future.
You wont be surprised to learn that my wife described my mood as mellow when I got home.
And that night I slept the sleep of the just!
On Friday, while much of the world was watching the opening of the Beijing Olympics, I attended the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) at Earls Court in London.
This was the 31st GBBF and (I think) the 19th or 20th Ive attended.
This was a fairly poignant afternoon, as my good mate Jon Cheese had attended the GBBF with me in the past; Jon died at the end of August last year, and last years GBBF was the last time my son Gaz and mate Paul had seen Jon alive.
The afternoon became doubly poignant when we learned that Michael Jackson (The Beer Hunter – not the other one) also passed away last August. In fact he died on the same day as Jon, from a heart attack. They were both 65 – well Jon was three weeks shy of his 65th birthday, but whos counting.
Jon and I had met Michael on a number of occasions. Jons wife Jan arranged for Michael to give a tutored beer tasting at Hornchurch library, and a most enjoyable evening was had by all.
At least we know who Jons drinking with, in heaven.
Today marks the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games.
We were in Beijing in September 2004, and saw the Olympic Countdown clock in Tianemen Square. Beijing was, while we were there, mercifully free of fog, although a a couple of the pictures look a bit hazy. Check the China link on the Been There, Done That pages.
These days I commute through Stratford in East london. Stratford is at the heart of the 2012 Olympic development zone and its fascinating to see how the area is being redeveloped. Old, run down industrial estates are being flattened to make way for lavish apartment complexes.
The skyline, from the train, is scattered with tower cranes, standing like storks against the pale east-end sky. I stopped counting at twenty five. I am confident that the whole skyline will change radically in the coming four years as the Olympic site is developed.
How impressive the British Olympic offering will be, in comparison to what the Chinese have achieved with ruthless disregard to the prior residents of the sites, and with an almost limitless budget, remains to be seen. I fear that we Brits will deliver some half-baked solution, which looks and feels cheap, but actually cost way over the odds.
Thats just the way it seems to be. Somehow we always end up paying over the odds for sub standard goods and services.
Its the British way.
And as for todays Olympic opening ceremony, beamed live from Beijing at 08.08.08.08.08 – I have a prior engagement. Ill be drinking at the Great British Beer Festival – now thats something we DO do well, but again, not cheaply.