“She got pinned down at the party pit…”

Ale is a strange beast to describe to my fellow Mexicans. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to explain the difference between beer and ale and the one that seems to do the trick is: less fizzy, tastier, less chance of a hangover.

It might be bobbins, it might the product of a misinformed loudmouth and it might not be accurate but it managed to get a few people to get away from Corona, Pacífico and XX Lager and try a couple, at least the ones we have available in México, like Hobgoblin, Bishop’s Finger & Bombardier (which I find people clashing over it being a beer or an ale. Selah).

A dear friend of mine informed me about an event by CAMRA (campaign for real ale). I previously been to two events in Sheffield (in the graveyard – muddy and fun) so I knew the variety was going to be good. Then I found out that the event was going to take place at the Magna Centre in Rotherham, meaning that:

  1. The selection was going to be even bigger.
  2. I would have to venture into “the new Berlin” (T.M. Article Magazine)

A tram and a bus journey afterwards and the sights of old industrial mammoths being retrofitted to become museums welcomed me. The entry price included a nice half pint glass (with a sheep, booyah!) and a frickload of music bands doing their own thing. This was half of the deal for me: I love music and I needed to get my fix of The Hot Soles, an ace band from Rotherham that had been playing almost daily at the Magna Centre. Only 5 hours until their set, load of ales to try.

As Magna is built upon the old site used by Steel, Peech and Tozeri, the walks are long and the open spaces are immense. You could still feel the old yells and vibes of a thousand souls that worked over there. Scratch that, it’s only the first ale, a stout called Yorkshire Porter (Old Mill) doing its magic. Maybe should have started with something lighter? Awesome flavour, though.

The first room I visit is where my friend and her mate are having pie and watching an acoustic band doing covers. The band does quite a few classic, mostly the well worn ones but nonetheless, good tracks. Let’s forgive the sins of Mexican Classic Rock stations (yes, you, Universal Stereo) that overplay one track and let’s appreciate these tracks. A quick conversation about general stuff (including styrofoam and the price of tea in China) followed.

A quick trip and another pint. This time it was Furnace Bitter (Consett), a better choice for an early afternoon. Good flavour! Alas, the call of porter beckoned. I blame my dad, who got me used to dark beers in México. Guthlac Porter  (Golac) was simply amazing, tasting slightly of coffee and hitting the liver in the right spots. This one was offered in a big room with gas heaters providing some sorely needed warmth. The bands on the stage were doing their best to warm up the cockles, but the room size wasn’t that much of a help for acoustics. A friend pointed out that an air conditioning vent was rattling a bit. Whether it was because of the alcohol or because of the sounds, we decided to leg it.

The next room was interesting. It was the one with breweries from Scotland and this is where some memories get hazy. I’m pretty sure we were in the room twice. I’m also sure we had a discussion about high heels shoes making women sexy (I don’t agree with this). There were a couple of jokers messing with the light switch. Always one bad alcoholic out to ruin it for all of us. Still, excellent ales. Elemental Porter (Tempest) was strong and full bodied, making me wish I’d sneaked a strong cheese and rye crackers (I’m a poshy asshole). Carron Oatmalt Stout (Tryst) was equally strong, with a slightly metallic taste that was offputting at first, but whatever bad reaction it caused, it dispelled fast; tasty ale makes up for anything else.

There was a big corridor to cross in order to get to the South Yorkshire room. The walk was entertaining, as it was plastered with information about the ales and some severe warnings about drinking both Cider and Ale. There was some entertainment in this corridor too, in the form of a capella music. A couple of barbershop quartet-style musicians (most of them with matching purple jackets) were doing some songs and it was a pretty nice moment. Especially listening to them covering John Denver’s ‘Country roads’. I’m 56% sure they sang this, although, to be honest, I ignored the “mixing Cider and Ale” warning.

The biggest room (South Yorkshire room, if memory doesn’t fail) was not as massive as the room with the high rise ceiling, but what it lacked on height, it made up in length and amount of ales. Here’s a photo.

This room was the motherload! It also had a nifty exhibition of cooperage and Jonathan the cooper knew his stuff. He works for Theakston, who make a rather good stout called Old Peculier (which I had later that night – hello, good friend). You take barrels for granted and all the work included into making one just makes you appreciate the flavour of ales much more. I half expected a big ape to come around and throw them barrels to an Italian plumber, but, alas, my daydreams never become a reality.

Time seriously passed and a disregard to those “CIDER AND BEER DON’T MIX” warnings probably caused trouble to those  who ignored the wise words. The ciders were a bit too dry for my taste, but still tried a couple, including some perry (all names missing, the page got lost in a feud with a mutant mole wearing a traffic cone – hic!).

The moment came and it was finally time to catch The Hot Soles doing their magic mojo music. Their soul rock is always a sight for sore eyes, and both musicians, Soul Brother A and Soul Brother B, are always passionate about their music. Indeed, you could see it in their eyes that they were having a heckuva time. It’s impossible to keep a frown with their music playing and that moment when Soul Brother A walks down from the stage while still playing and mingles with the crowd is always a fave of mine.

This time around, he got himself a drink while still playing. Jebus bless wireless guitars! They closed their set with ‘Call the regulator’ and it would be a nice bit of info to know when more stuff will be released. Their music needs to get out there and wash away those miserable moments that bring us down.

It was the end of the day and two last tickets remained. Alas, the alcohol selection was now mostly empty. A Best Bitter (Theakston) was ok, but nothing to write home about. Night Heron (Bird Brain), on the other hand, was brilliant, so I reckon the lessons learned on that eventful, fun filled Saturday were:

  • Never drink a litre of coffee before trying ales. Taste buds might be more inclined to keep it bitter and rich, making you biased for stouts.
  • Always go for the rich food, like a pie with mash and mushy peas and not the lighter bites (like a pork sandwich).
  • Be sure to get on the right bus and not end up in a night tour of Rotherham’s nightlife.
  • Never wear a military looking shirt with a flag from a foreign country near people drunk enough to wear a traffic cone hat.
  • Listen to The Hot Soles more often.
  • Taking photographs of women wielding red balloons can sometimes lead to trouble.
  • Ale is better than beer.

A good day indeed. Like Craig Finn once said: “gonna walk and drink some more”.

Here’s more pics:

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Words & Pics & Unresearched facts : Sam

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