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16-12-2014, 15:11
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The Marble Arch, Rochdale Road, Manchester M4 4HY

The Christmas music piped up just as we piled off the train at Manchester Victoria.
But this blast of brass was the closest some of us got to the festivities all day. Not that we are entirely Bah Humbugs on this blog, it was just a bit chilly out and there was surely a pub with a roaring fire waiting for us somewhere.
The idea behind the 'First' group's monthly outing was to combine Manchester's Christmas Market with a tour of the city's pubs.
A few hardy souls did stick to the game-plan but let's say the majority weren't singing from the same hymn sheet.
The splinter group's first stop was a fine sight. The red granite exterior of The Marble Arch in Ancoats was bathed in wintry sunlight, giving it an almost holy glow.
Inside was a revelation too, with a sloping tiled floor leading inexorably to the bar. There we found a wide range of Marble Brewery on cask and some keg beers from other breweries.
I was ready to be cliched and drink Manchester Bitter, one of my favourites. But it wasn't on, and I saw a new beer from Marble, Antipodean: a New Zealand Pale Ale.
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This four percenter won unanimous praise from the Christmas market naysayers and turned out to be beer of the day for many. There was no hop info on the pump clip but Neslon Sauvin came out top in our guess the hop competition.

The perceived wisdom is beer circles is that Marble beers are not quite as good as they used to be. Although we only tried one beer and it's difficult to make an informed decision from that, the evidence before us suggested otherwise. I have never closed my eyes to Marble but I shall look forward to more of their beers based on this experience.
After much purring over Antipodean on cask, it was time for the keg debate to rage. Our group consisted of the keen, undecided and the anti-keg.
Two beers were kindly shared among the group, one from Beer Moth, a 7% plus percent affair, and a collaboration involving Magic Rock at a shade over 6%.
The Beer Moth was cold and fizzy, while the Magic Rock combo was less lively and more like normal temperature.
I think the consensus was for the Beer Moth but our keg dissenter liked the other beer.
After a promising start, I was a little underwhelmed by the next two pubs: The Angel up the road and The Smithfield. Both bars had little for me and I chose badly instead of sitting them out.

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Crown & Kettle, Oldham Road M4 5FE

But The Crown & Kettle was a return to form, both in look and beer.
I'd been instructed to marvel at the ceiling but not to be alarmed if a flake or two fell on me. You see, one side of the chanderlier clad beauty was scraped back, while the other was beatufully decorated in claret and gold. Both were covered by netting.
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After observing the architecture - including the church-like windows and arches- I returned to beer-blinkers mode.

A scan down the bar revealed a collobaration from the Riverhead and Rat breweries, involving corriander and something else, Ossett's Nervous Turkey, Arbor's A Winter's Pale and a beer from the mysterious Vagrant Brewing Company.
I was tempted to try thelatter but I am a bit of an Arbor junkie so I went for their Aussie Pale Ale. This 4.7% trip to the New World was my beer of the day by a whisker and we had some good ale that day.
The pub was busy but we found a table in the back room and settled down to talk beer.
One of our enterprising group went to enquire with the bar staff about Vagrant. The bartender promptly went on the internet and told us all about this cuckoo brewery who work out of Black Jack.
I don't know which site she used but I suspect it might have been this informative Q&A on Manchester Ale News (http://manchester.alenews.uk/2014/08/01/vagrant-brewing-manchesters-newest-cuckoo-brewers/).
Later, when we did a trip 'wash up', The Crown & Kettle and The Marble Arch stood out for welcome, helpful bar staff and beer.
Next up was a Robinsons pub, The Castle Hotel on Oldham Street. Here another splinter group formed, those who filed into this beautifully brown-tiled Grade II listed pub and those who sloped off down a side street for a chip or fish butty.
Suitably nourished, but miffed not to have seen the Holland's Pies until it was too late, we headed out
of the Northern Quarter to the Port Street Beer House.

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Port Street Beer House, Port Street M1 2EQ

I wondered if we were going to the dentists when we suddenly turned 90 degrees off the street into a pastel-hued hallway. But my fears were allayed when we bore right into a packed ground floor bar.
Here the choice, for me, was between two more Arbor beers, Oyster Stout or a saison with clementines. Bus as the light was fading, it was time for a dark beer and continued Arbor's remarkable run of consistently good beers for me whether they be in Manchester, Sheffield or Hudds.
The only gripe I and others had was the price of our different beers. I think mine was £1.90 for a 4.6% and a First collegue complained to me about not getting much change out of a tenner for four halves.
But I can't say I wasn't forewarned as the excellent Manchester Pub Guide, published by CAMRA, told me it was a "rather expensive experience".
From here we went to the first of two food orientated bars. The first was Pie & Ale, which lived up to its billing.

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Pie & Ale, Lever Street M1 1FN

But these weren't any old meat and potato pies but pigeon, game and a horse pot. I abstained but never have I heard so many people enthusing about knowingly consuming horse meat.
After a veritable Grand National sized field of horse puns, we got back on track to beer. I think all of us were looking forward to Mallinsons Citra but it promptly ran off as we were about to order. Then I think another beer went, so my choice was between the house beer, brewed by Wells & Young's, and a pilsner.
I went for the pilsner, I can't remember who it was brewed by. All I recall was that it was OK and it's the second pilsner I've had lately which has left me nonplussed. It's normally a beer style I tend to favour but I wonder if I'm growing out of it. Time will tell.
We talked long and hard about staying for another as new beers were coming on the bar, like Summer Wine Brewery's Hit Man.
We were tempted but it was time to go to our final destination: Common on Edge Street.
It was another food and drink place.
The pub, which is basically a series of converted shops, is known for its artwork, but it was packed when we visited on early Saturday evening so I don't recall looking at the walls, it was more about getting served.
One of our group stumped me with a question as we were standing at the bar. We could see all the ABV for the cask and keg beers but no percentages for the cocktails, which were advertised prominently on a sign hanging over the bar.
Later as I watched one being made - and saw all the combinations of spirits and liqueurs going in - I guessed they don't tell you the strength as you may need some algebraic formula to work it out or they don't want to scare you with a 45% plus monster.
Beer-wise we were all delighted to get a second chance at Summer Wine's Hit Man only for it run off before our eyes. Some opted for a golden beer instead from Prospect, of Standish.
Looking around the clientele here tended to be of the younger hipster end. They seemed to be enjoying the food, which seemed to be of the burger and nachos variety.
Inevitably, talked turned to planning the January expedition. This had been promted by a text from aswiftone contributors Aliain who had suggested a Wakefield district trip to the likes of The Junction in Castleford, The newly re-opened Robin Hood at Pontefract and the bars of the Merrie city itself.
I suspect we will combine it with a mini tour of Leeds, taking in Northern Monk's Refectory in Holbeck and maybe the pubs of Water Lane.

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