A couple of weeks ago, the National Winter Ales Festival rolled its way into the Sheridan Suite on Oldham Road, Manchester to showcase over 300 ales, ciders and perries to the Manchester public. In association with CAMRA and Robinsons Brewery, it promised a wide range of both national and local breweries, as well as International bottled ales, food, stalls and entertainment. Myself and a friend went along on the Friday to try our hand at a few!
A rather drizzle led night, we made the 20 minute walk from Piccadilly Gardens to the Sheridan Suite, where a que was forming outside the doors – always a good sign, especially when it was one in, one out. After finally making our way inside after paying a tidy sum of £5 to gain entry, we entered to what I can only describe as a large room filled with long rows of barrels, hand-pumps and hot food stalls, all entwined with a mixture of families, groups of adults both young and old and a flurry of volunteers pouring away.
After briefly browsing the many offerings, I plumped for Dry Stone by Hawkshead Brewery (4,5%), a well-balanced stout that had a long, dry finish, whilst my friend went for Happy Valley’s ‘Little Rascal’ (3.9%), a fantastic hop character created using Tomahawk, Columbus and Chinook hops. Next up was the ‘Centurion’s Ghost’ by York Brewery (5.4%), a dark, bitter ale that gave off a roasted malt flavour. A rather easy drinker! ‘Snow White’ by the Whim Brewery (4.8%) was chosen next by my friend, a coriander based wheat beer with a citrus zest taste on the palate.
We then sourced out the Robinsons Brewery table, where they had on offer ‘Old Tom’, ‘Old Tom Chocolate’ and their new ale, ‘Long Kiss Goodnight’. My friend plumped for the Old Tom Chocolate (6%) a chocolate infused variant on the award-winning Old Tom, whilst I went for the Long Kiss Goodnight (3.9%), a rather warm, floral mix of toffee and spice on the nose, with a rich hoppy biscuit taste on the palate.
Unfortunately due to the time we arrived, we only had time for one more, so we decided to wander over to the International ale table, where there were fridges full of interesting bottled ales from Belgium, Germany, Holland, Czech Republic and the USA. We went off the recommendation of one of the volunteers, and he offered us a Belgian Anker Boscoulis (3.5%) and a Timmermans Peche (4%). The Anker Bouscoulis was a rather sweet strawberry fruit beer (perfect for a man with a sweet tooth) with lasting flavour on the aftertaste, whilst the Timmermans Peche had a powerful peach aroma which created a dry taste on the palate.
Despite only sampling a few, the sheer scale of the place, as well as the ales on offer, would make it a daunting task for anyone, and a full day is recommended! I’ve always loved these ale festivals, as it’s the perfect chance to try something new, or sample an ale that you see around, but just never had the opportunity to try. Roll on next year!
For more photos of the Winter Ales Festival, click here.
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