Monday, 10 May 2010

Macc Fest

I manage to arrive at Macclesfield Rugby Club just as the finishing touches are being made to the marquee in the club's car park. For the next few days this will be home to the Macclesfield beer festival.

The major task once the marquee was erected was the construction of the stillage and then putting the barrels onto it - with over 150 barrels of beer and 35 pins of cider that is one tough job - I'm not sorry I missed out on that.

All the barrels were in place so there was very little for me to do but chat to Trev about the beers.

(left) Saturday lunchtime session

Keef, my host for the weekend, then arrived and we chatted further about the beer before making our way to nearby Bollington. Keef and Jill live just a hundred yards from the local CAMRA PotY 2010, the Poachers Inn, so we popped in there for a few pints and something to eat.

On Friday morning, it was time to give the barrels one final watering - the weather was quite cool but we wanted to be sure they didn't get too warm - before popping down to the Waters Green Tavern for a spot of lunch.

I'd not had any of Brian's tasty grub before the match last weekend but his steak pie was spot on (even if it isn't a proper pie). We'll have to find an excuse to come back here next season regardless that we're in the wrong division - if only so that they get their regulation dose of Lance.

Back at the festival, it was time to start checking the beers - quite an operation when you've got a fussy git like Trev as bar manager who wants to add his own tasting notes - and so we were still checking the final few beers when the festival opened.

Some interesting beers along the way included the Beartown Paddington Bear with it's strong chocolate orange overtones; Saltaire Blackberry Cascade; Townhouse GSA Extra which was a strong ale fortifed further with four bottles of port; TSA Ginger Explosion - a bit of a marmite beer; Whim Kaskade which was the pick of the pale ales, beautifully conditioned; Williams Ceilidh - a real lager and Yeovil Star Gazer.

Of the ciders and perries, the Two Trees perry from Gwynt y Ddraig was my favourite - and no doubt that of others too as this was all gone by the end of Friday night.

Less interesting were the six fruit beers from Coach House - Banoffee, Blueberry, Cherry, Pineapple, Pink Grapefruit and Strawberry - all at 5% and seemingly designed for the ladies visiting the festival. Not surprising none of them were especially subtle but they did sell surprisingly well.

One of the major considerations when running a festival is to ensure you have enough staff - and this is one area which has improved at the Macc fest - we now have enough to ensure the staff are not worked off their feet (they are volunteers after all) and the punters are not having to queue three-deep at the bar - which can happen when you have 1500 people in each night.

I was working on the stretch of bar with beers from breweries P to Y - next to the wine and cider bars - and we seem to be the first stretch of bar that people come to.

The Ceilidh took quite a hammering so after a while Trev takes it off. The Whim Kaskade then became the beer to have and so this is taken off too so as to preserve some stock for tomorrow.

After about three hours, the pace slackened off as most people started to drink a little slower and the rest of the session was quite relaxed. The bar closed at midnight and the security team ushered the punters out into the cold night air and we had time for a quick break.

Still work to be done though for the beer team - Trev, his wife Margaret, Keef and I then had to dip all the barrels to see how much beer was drunk. Using old traditional dipsticks this could be very awkward within the tight confines of the stillage but Trev has designed a measure that uses gravity to indicate how full the barrel is - surprisingly accurate and quite quick so that by 1:30am we were all finished and we're taxied home to our beds.

By the time Keef and I got back to the festival on Sat morning, the tent was all spick and span and Trev the perfectionist was busy checking the beers.

The Saturday lunchtime session has been getting more popular over recent years - not just with tickers (with rumours that Mick the Tick is in attendance) but also friends and families who come along for the chilled-out atmosphere.

John Bell has come over from Chester to see for himself - and it's not long before he has got chatting to one of the more avid beer hounds in attendance - or beer terrorist as John describes him. John used to think Colin was odd with his bottling - not any more.

(left) Former MP Nick Winterton and his successor David Rutley talk to a local voter

Also on parade is the new MP for Macclesfield - David Rutley - a Tory who has been recently parachuted into the constituency. He's been dragged along by outgoing MP Nicholas Winterton who has been a regular at these Sat sessions ever since the festival started.

Rutley is a Mormon and so is drinking water and feeling rather conspicuous as I take a few shots of him and Winterton. Let's hope he's as supportive of real ale as old Nick has been.

Once the lunchtime session is over and everyone has left, we wander out to pick up a chinese and manage to relax for a half-hour meal break before its time to dip the beers again. Trev is nothing if not thorough.

A familiar face joins us - Brian, landlord of the Waters Green, is one of the sponsors and has come up with his brother Matt and ex-ticker mate Jonesy for a pre-opening tasting.

(right) Brian, Matt and Jonesy

Brian fills me in on his plans for the pub now that he and Tracey have bought it and says they're looking forward to seeing DAFTS dropping in next season.

The evening session starts off quite busily but again we've got plenty of staff so we're not rushed off our feet. My feet are starting to ache though as apart from our meal break, I've been on them all day.

By the time we approach closing time everyone seems to have had enough to drink - and once the place is a bit quieter we make the final dipping of the barrels which is a bit quicker this time now that quite a few barrels are empty.

The once everything has been dipped, the remaining beer is tipped away. It seems sacrilege but the barrels will be taken away in the next day or so and the tent taken down within 24 hours so we get as much done as we can. Not the most glamorous of jobs.

It's 3am by the time I get to bed for just a few hours before I'm up again just after 8am for my early train back to London. I'm well and truly knackered but it has been fun.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Deja Macc

I hate farewells so I'll not be attending our final league game - all being well it won't be a case of Goodbye but Au Revoir instead and we'll be back in the League in the not too distant future.

So instead of trekking up to Darlo with Martin and Chris, I'll be taking my second trip to Macclesfield in less than a week as I make my annual pilgrimage to their beer festival - the 16th since it all started.

The backbone on the beer side of the event has been the same since that first festival - my mates Trevor and Keith handling the bar manager duties, ably supported by local CAMRA members and other volunteers.

There will be about 130 cask ales from many new micros plus the odd one-off special beer for the festival. And after they went so quickly last year, there will be at least 35 ciders and perries available.

The Friday and Saturday night sessions are ticket only - Friday usually sells out and Saturday will be close - with a lot of live music on both nights which generally means a quite mixed crowd.

It's a fun festival and all money made is donated to local charities.

For me, the best time to come is the free Saturday lunchtime session which is more family-oriented as well as being extremely popular with the ticker fraternity who travel from far and wide to check out Trev's beer selections.

See you at the bar...

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Macc Attack

After what has seemed like an absolute eternity, the season has finally come to the end - certainly as far as I'm concerned as I'll not be there for the last rites against Dagenham & Redbridge.

And it's kind of appropriate that our final away league game will be at Moss Rose - hardly one of the most salubrious grounds in the league, more reminiscent of what we'll have a lot of next season - but they've still got a standing terrace so that will do me fine (so long as it doesn't rain of course).

I've aways enjoyed our trips to Macclesfield which is why, after a hearty breakfast at the nearby Double Six, I'm on the 7:55am train out of Euston leaving Martin to take the train an hour later.

The Virgin service these days is much improved and to date, all our journeys have been in stark contrast to previous seasons when delays, bus replacements and extended run times were the norm. Such a shame their carriages are so small and cramped.

After a quick wander round the shops in the centre of Macc I waited patiently outside the Waters Green Tavern just before 11am.

Landlady Tracey must have been keeping an eye out as she opened the door and told me that even though they now open at midday, I could come in.

(left) Steve tucks in at the Waters Green Tavern

Since our last visit to Macclesfield back in Sep 2008, landlord Brian and Tracey have now bought the pub and started work on various improvements. The toilets have had a welcome makeover and the roof is in the process of being renovated.

One thing that remains the same is the choice of beers which is up to its usual standard, mainly golden ales as preferred by the management, with Roosters Yankee, Bradfield Blonde, Dark Star American Pale Ale and Bradfield Stout on tap.

I settle down to my pint and it isn't long before I see some murky figures through the window - no doubt confused by the pub looking closed. On closer inspection I see that it's Trevor, John Gray and Rich Parker and some other Darlo lads so I ask Brian to let them in.

I hear from Martin who has just arrived in Macc but he has a bad attack of gout - too much good living probably - and so he is going straight to the ground via taxi as he reckons he'll just be bad company if he comes to the pub.

Subsequently the remainder of the DAFTS hardcore arrived - including Steve and Brummy Tony and then Lance and the Waters family who are staying over in Manchester for the weekend.

It had been rumoured that Lance would actually go to this final away fixture but in the end both Ray and he decided they'd stay in the pub instead.

The beer was going down very well today - the pick of the bunch was the Dark Star which has always been superb wherever I've had it. The others liked it too.

Steve, BT and myself left the pub quite late and caught a taxi from the nearby station to the ground but we were still there in plenty of time for the kick off.

The stewards are a friendly lot here and were quite happy for me to use my camera to capture some shots of this last away league match.

Inside the ground we took up position just behind the goal and it wasn't long before the away terrace was jumping with delight. Captain Ian Miller headed in a cross from Mark Convery after less than ten minutes. Was this a case of PTE (Peaking Too Early)?

(right) BT, Tony and Trev celebrate the opening goal

Any signs that Macclesfield were going to make a commited attempt to get back on terms were not forthcoming - in fact it all looked quite comfortable for us and it was the home fans who were starting to moan at their team.

Meanwhile on the away terrace there was a bit of a party atmosphere - a relatively decent turnout though to be fair I'd expected it to be a bit fuller for this last away game.

At one stage in the first half, a group of knuckle-dragging types arrived and were generally acting like wannabe football hooligans but they didn't seem to know what they were doing. After a bit of posturing and gurning at the stewards they did the decent thing and fucked off.

For the remainder of the first half Darlo continued to dominate although Macc had the odd chance - Liversedge dealt with all that he needed to which was very surprising given his recent lack of form. I begin to wonder whether we should also be questioning the quality of the goalkeeping coach this season.

In the second half Darlo were kicking towards the away end and continued to dominate. The defence coped well whilst youngsters McReady and Michael Smith impressed with hard-working displays.

It looked as if Darlo would double their lead after sub Mulligan was judged to have been fouled and Darlo were awarded a penalty. Convery took it but it was a tame effort and the keeper saved easily.

My Northallerton neighbour, Geoff, went apoplectic with the effort - probably getting too overexcited as he did so - but Con was soon to make amends when he crossed a great little ball for Smith to head home past Macc keeper Brain.

(left) Michael Smith scores the second goal for Darlo

It was a thoroughly deserved victory as Macc were hardly at the races and there were good performances throughout - just the sort of positive performance to finish the season on after so much of it has been totally forgettable.

After applauding the players off, we wandered off down to the Railway View to have a few beers. I can't remember what we had - the pump clip was rather spartan in the information stakes - but it was very bland so we supped up and wandered back to the station.

Tony, Lesley and BT decided to catch their trains whilst I wandered over to the Old Millstone to meet Martin. This pub used to do a few different beers but all it had to offer was Ruddles Bitter. It wasn't a particularly nice pint so I left half of it and we popped over to the station to await our train.

Not quite a perfect journey back - the locomotive was not running at full power so we were about 20 mins late back into Euston. I rushed off to St Pancras - leaving Martin to limp slowly back to his car - where I met Liz, Jenny and Chris at the Betjeman Arms.

They're certain of a play-off spot but are not yet certain of the opposition. For me though, the season is now over and I can enjoy a few free weekends and maybe do some of those jobs that I've been putting off all season. Don't hold your breath though...

(above) Happy Campers