We begged Pastey for this. (We have no shame.) We want everybody to notice that he has admitted to eating chip butties. In public.
I've never been out drinking in Chester before even though it's only a short train ride away. Mostly because I'd no idea where to go drinking, and well, Manchester is such a good place itself.
However, Saturday 30th June saw the CAMRGB (Campaign for Really Good Beer) AGM and Twissup. Firstly, CAMRGB is a drinking club with no prejudice. It doesn't matter if you like mild or lager or all flavours in between. It doesn't matter than you prefer keg, cask or bottle. What does matter is that it's good beer. Second explanation, a Twissup is where people who usually drink beer and tweet about it get together in that real life thing to drink beer together. And tweet about it.
So, we decided to make a weekend of it, booked into a hotel and set off to Chester. Although we didn't get the train, we drove. In our 1955 Series 1 Landrover. So even though it's only about 40 miles away, because we steered clear of the motorways it took us just over two hours due to traffic and a top speed of 40 miles an hour.
The first pub where everyone was meeting was Kash, the Blueball Brewery tap. This is a great pub. I've quite liked the Blueball beers when I've had them, although I've always found their marketing to be a little on the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more" side that the craft beer industry has been trying to shake off in recent years. We arrived early because we wanted some food and had been informed that the menu at Kash wasn't only good, but the food was excellent. We weren't let down. The good lady had a spicy vegetarian pasta dish and I had a brewers burger (with hops in!). Both were astoundingly good. Each mouthful was a pure delight and set us up nicely for an afternoon and evening of drinking.
First up was Blueball's own Indie Girl. A 3.8% IPA that I was curious about. The only other brewery that does such a weak IPA is Greene King, and theirs is utter rubbish. Blueball's however was everything it should be. It was light and easy to drink with a good hoppy aroma and delicate hop on the tongue that led to a massive hop hit at the end.
By the time we'd finished out food and the first drinks more people were starting to turn up, although we didn't know any of them yet. Then we were joined by Jay & Dominque of Quantum Brewery, and Claudia and her husband from Port Street Beer House, four Stockport residents that we did know, along with James from Sandstone brewery. I've never had any Sandstone beers before, so took the opportunity to try his Obsidian. This drank too easily. The body was light and delicate, belied by its dark, rich colour. It had all the tastes you'd expect from a dark beer, good chocolaty malt, slight smoke aroma, but it was very light in body.
It looked like everyone was settling down for a bit, especially since FREE FOOD had been brought out. Meat Pies, Pork Pies and Corn Dogs. Okay, nothing for vegetarians but the wife was still stuffed from the lunch so that was okay. To go with this FREE FOOD I could do no better than Blueball's White Betty. An 8% beer that was frankly shockingly good. It had that slight sweetness you can get with strong beers, but that was the only thing that gave away its strength. I was thankful I'd moved onto halves by now because it disappeared before I'd realised it. A pint of this could have caused problems for later on. The down side here was that this was only my third beer, and had set a very high bar for the rest of the day.
There's not much that can follow such a good strong beer, so I decided to change styles and go with a fruit beer. Unfortunately it was Blueball's Blackberry Tart. If I didn't know this was a fruit beer, I'm afraid I would never have guessed. If I took it as a standard 3.5% bitter, it'd be a lovely thirst quencher that I could happily drink all day. It was light and refreshing, and went down a treat resetting my palate for future drinks. Really, this is a very good beer. But I was expecting more blackberries and was therefore a little disappointed.
To console myself, and convince my palate that it hadn't done anything wrong I next went for the Sandstone Blueball collaboration brew, Black Betty. This was in a freebie help yourself mini-keg on the bar, and my taste buds loved me for it. Slightly weaker than the White Betty at 7.6%, but had all the easy drinking of it with added dark delights. Full on flavours and a slight sweetness on the nose made this incredibly good. Once more, I was going to struggle finding something to follow it with.
As this was to be our last here, I plumped for the Ruby O'Reilly. An Irish red, a style I'm not usually that keen on as I find they can be rather, well, standard. This was standard in its own way, but not a bad one. Drinking this smooth, gently malty beer I was reminded of why I started drinking ale in the first place. I was reminded of how good a pint of London Pride can be, of how drinking Bass used to be a pleasurable way to spend an afternoon, and of how I looked forward to opening those bottles. This brought back a lot of memories of those benchmark beers which caught me by surprise. Memory is supposed to get fuzzy with time. We're supposed to only remember good things through a rose tinted haze. Well, this beer was all the good things I remember about those beers.
By now we were only half an hour later so we all started to move to the next pub, the Pied Bull Inn. All of us turned out to be half the pub. The other half were having a LAN party so weren't going anywhere for a while. The Pied Bull is a typical Olde Worlde Pube (snigger) that is well suited to its surrounds inside the historic walls of Chester. The bar however is not so Olde Worlde. Beers from Offbeat and Red Willow sat alongside two from the pubs own brewery, Matador and a brew especially for us, Twissup which I had to sample. A 5.5% black IPA this was another surprise. Most black IPAs drink like IPAs, light and hoppy. This one had body. There was a good amount of malt in there, almost enough to be able to chew. We sat down in a reserved area at the back, thankfully as it was race day and the entire town was heaving, and no sooner had we sat down but more FREE FOOD appeared. Scampi, chips and bread and butter. Chip butties all 'round! If this couldn't get any better, the brewer offered us a tour of the cellar and brewery. The brewery at the Pied Bull is small, it's a 1 Barrel plant with three fermenters, but a fair few of us managed to cram ourselves in for an explanation to a rapt audience of enthusiasts, many of whom home brew and were looking for tips. And, of course, there was some sampling to be done.
Time was getting on and to try and get back on track we headed across town to Artichoke. This is a place I like, a lot. To be fair it's a little expensive, but not so much as to put you off. It's a Bistro more than anything, and the food coming out for customers looked divine. The range of gins available was amazing, two whole wide shelves full, and the cocktail list intriguing. The hand pumps had decent local beers and the fridges and keg lines stocked an impressive range from further afield. Including my favourite Delirium Tremens, which I just had to go for. Along with a Chase Gin chaser. If you've never had Delirium Tremens, go buy a bottle. It's light yet sweet, dry yet hoppy. Strong, yet very, very moreish. And went wonderfully with the gin. After that, I just had to try the Marmalade Vodka Espresso Martini. Yes, it was lovely. Okay, not strictly speaking beer, but hey I enjoyed it.
It was here that I got to chat properly with Simon, the man behind CAMRGB. He never set out to create the campaign, he just started writing about the beers he was drinking and it sort of snowballed from there.
The last planned stop of the night was the Cellar Bar, and I have to admit I was disappointed. This was billed as having the best bottled range in Chester, and yet both Kash and Artichoke seemed to have a better one. It was also very loud, and whilst we were planned to have the downstairs cellar bar to ourselves, they weren't opening it and we seemed to be stuck upstairs with lots of random strangers and lots of noise. The upshot though, they had Flying Dog's Gonzo Imperial Porter on. This is a lovely 9.2% rich, smooth porter that just melts on your tongue. I could drink this 'til my legs stopped working, unfortunately it was hard to hear each other talk about the stuff we were drinking.
I'd like to go back to the Cellar and see it on a not so busy day, because by now we were all starting to get a bit drunk (sensibly) and act like idiots. I did however meet Andy who arranged the crawl, and Alex who owns the Blueball Brewery, and was able to chat to him about how wonderful his beers were, how amazing his food was, and how I thought his marketing was a little over the top. And bless him for putting up with me. He didn't get defensive, he didn't get argumentative or even try pandering to a potential customer. We just had a good discussion about 1940s American Pin Up, which as the base of their marketing, and how they were trying to use them. I liked this guy. In fact, there wasn't a single person I met who I didn't like and wouldn't happily spend an evening drinking with.
It was however now starting to get very late, so there was nothing left to do but head back to Kash! A few more pints and a lot more chat with some great people rounded off the night well. A big thank you to Simon and Alex for organising it.