Sunday, 18 January 2015

Pub Crawling in Stockport

Seven miles east of popular party destination Manchester lies the altogether different town of Stockport. Built on a couple of hills, next to a big blue pyramid, Stockport is like a traditional English market town that suffers perhaps because the MCR’s sprawling metropolis is so close at hand and so accessible – lots of buses and trains each hour that bring the clubs, venues, restaurants and bars (and indeed, the 21st century) easily within reach.

What does that leave you with for a night out in Stockport? It’s time to find out. In fact, it’s time to find out anew since I’ve already done a Stockport pub crawl. A good few years ago my friend moved there, and we decided to try it out – it’s only 3 miles up the road from my house. It was something of a failure by all accounts. We were pretty much the only people who had chosen to go out in Stockport on that particular Saturday night – with the singular exception of the scary man who hit us up for 2 quid in the second pub we called in. He had tears tattooed on his face, and none of us felt we were on familiar enough terms to ask any questions as to whether they represented the number of people he’d killed, years he’d spent in prison or times he’d been raped... Everyone pretended not to be scared while Phil gave him 2 quid.

With the atmosphere of that pub ruined, we left pretty sharpish and ended up between pubs in a pissing rain storm. At this point paranoia was setting in, and we were expecting to run into a gang of Nazis at any moment.

Surely it couldn’t be as bad as that again?

Before setting out this time, something on Twitter suggested I should download a beer app (Untappd), so I thought I could try it out during our excursion. I decided to try the find good beer nearby function first, entered my post code, and waited for it to suggest that the nearest good beer was… in town, 3 miles away at the Port Street Beer House. FFS. There has to be some good beer nearer than that! Ok, so maybe it’s one to try sometime later.

After a couple of warm up drinks, Mrs Cake and I set out to The Magnet on Wellington Road. We’d never been there before, and I’d never even considered it – it’s location isn’t the most inviting (outside of town, round the corner from a retail park)… but it is surprisingly good. It’s nicely decked out, plush, friendly and with a good selection of beer. They also sell pouches and cartons that you can have filled with beer to take home with you. Pretty frickin’ awesome. In fact, Mrs Cake suggested this could be the place we come to when we fancy popping out for “a quick pint”. Our usual haunt, The Fiddler’s Green is friendly enough (and easily within walking distance), but the selection of drinks is blackly depressing. On our last visit I spotted a new bottle in the fridge and asked what it was, only to be told by the barmaid: “No idea. I couldn’t  tell you”. So… do you want to have a look at the bottle, or what? I’m sure it’ll tell you on there… if you’ll just look. Nope.

The Magnet has all tons of real ales and fancy foreign beers, and for the sake of 5 minutes on a bus, totally worth it.
Beer list at The Magnet
I tried Bitburger Premium Pils, since I tend to opt for those type of beers these days, but I was disappointed with a bitter aftertaste, scoring it 3 out of 5, which I can’t help with the benefit of hindsight, thinking should have been a 2 or 2.5.

Next we headed back a little further from Stockport to The Railway, where a teddy boy night was in full swing. The atmosphere was a bit weird in there, but no cause for concern. In the main room everyone was dressed for the 50s, while the other room was where everyone else went. It’s one of those pubs that’s nice enough, but the d├ęcor and sparse furnishings give it a shabby working men’s club feel.

This time I went for “Warrior” (4.6%) by Goldmark Craft Beers, which confounded my new beer app. Honestly, only my second beer and I’ve already found a new one. No need to worry though, there is a feature that allows you to enter your discovery on to the app. I unlocked the “Night Out” achievement for that one, though it was actually for being on a night out rather than discovering a new beer. You’ll see I came to earn four achievements on this first excursion.

Next up was The Swan With Two Necks, which is down in Stockport town. This was a weird one an’all… it was nearly empty and they were playing cheesy 80s pop music really loud, and I’m talking Kylie’s I Should Be So Lucky and even Stefan Dennis. We didn’t know what to make of that. Also, the gents toilet is outside so, you know, while I made that quip about the 21st century earlier, I’m not actually trying to imply that Stockport is backward but… it’s not like there aren’t er… things that hark back to a simpler time… 80s music and outside toilets? Not of the same era, but even so.

I chose the 8.5% Old Tom, which I actually enjoyed very much. Dark of flavour, it reminded me very much of the 32 year old Bunnahabain I’d been drinking around that time. Soon after I read a blog about pairing beer with whisky, and I can’t help thinking that these two would probably complement each other perfectly. 4 out of 5 for this one.

So, onward to The Arden Arms, another bizarre experiment in publicanism – on the surface. No, outside it looks like a pub, but inside it’s like a betting shop from the 19th century. You order your pint from like, a window – or rather a counter, more than a bar. Here I think I had Hoptimus Prime, which I also scored a 3.

We finished up this time at The Boar’s Head, which is by the market place and is a Samuel Smith pub. It’s very cheap, which is nice, and they have their own branded spirits – another aspect I enjoy. I decided to have a chaser this time, so it was Sovereign Best Bitter (4.1%, 3.5 out of 5), with the irish whisky.

We went home after that, picking up some fried chicken on the way. It was a far more successful pub crawl than my last attempt then, and definitely one I’d repeat/recommend.

The next day I was perusing our tv recordings library, and wondering why the new episode of How I Met Your Mother hadn’t recorded. Later, while catching up on my tweets from the previous night, I found one that said, “watching How I Met Your Mother; why is Marshall so thin?” So clearly the reason it wasn’t in the library was that we’d been watching it drunk. Ought not to’ve deleted it really.

So, I’ll just finish off with a few words about that beer app. It’s a shame really that I’ve explored so much beer already, as this means I pretty much have to start again. The flip side of that is that I am newly encouraged to try different beers, where recently I had been content to stick with beer that I know I like. The app encourages you by giving you achievement badges – I got four just from that night alone, and we only went in 5 pubs – talk about enabling. A week or so later I got a badge for drinking 10 different beers in a row. What the app doesn’t realise of course, is that I wasn’t logging a beer if I’d already had it, there didn’t seem to be any point in logging multiple cans of my staple Holsten Pils, and especially not the 18 cans of Carling my dad had brought over – nor even the second pint of Jever… if you have to start logging everything you do, where does it stop?

I haven’t tried it out fully yet, having only one friend on there, and having chosen not to allow it to speak to the internet through Facebook or Twitter because I don’t want people being told about what I’m doing or where I am until I’m ready to tell them. Nevertheless, I’ve noticed one drawback to its functionality, and that is that it doesn’t appear to log where you drank the beers you check in, even when you add your location. I could be missing where it does that, but I had to resort to the internet to find the name of the Samuel Smith pub, when I should have just been able to check my beer log on my app.

It does seem that the app gets in the way a little since you pretty much have to take your phone out and log your beer as soon as you get back to your table – otherwise you might forget what you’re drinking. I know Mrs Cake finds that very annoying when she’s trying to have a conversation. It’s like when people first got mobile phones and you’d be in a pub, playing pool with someone when they get a text. Then they stop playing and answer the text (which used to take so much longer), leaving you standing there waiting. Luckily people eventually got used to ignoring their texts until opportune times. Some did anyway.

It was a most successful excursion, then. Sure, some of it is down to the company you keep, but it helps if you can find interesting and friendly pubs, which we did.

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