One other highlight of my latest Manchester trip was a brief reaquaintance with Holts, staying within sight of their brewery in Cheetham and visting what is probably their flagship pub in the Shambles area.
When I first visited Manchester, for pubs rather than music, Holts seemed to me to symbolise the city even more than Boddies. This is probably because of the use of the iconic Lamb in Steve Coogan’s diaries and Mark E Smith of the Fall’s reputation as a serious Holts drinker, though Holts had a reputation down south as a proper bitter rather than that straw-flavoured ad-driven competitor.
Certainly I can recall a lot of the Bitter for exactly a quid a pint during the 1996 Euros, particularly at the Old Monkey, oddly a brand new pub at that time. The Sam Smiths OBB in the Oyster Bar left a deeper impression that week though.
Over the years I’ve visited a fair number of slightly rougher Holts pubs in Salford and North Manchester, drawing on the Good Beer Guide, and they’re my idea of a proper pub. The small string of Victorian gems from Eccles to Patricroft are particularly wonderful, and beer turnover always seemed high enough to guarantee a good pint.
Over recent years the traditional pubs have fallen out of the Beer Guide (Swinton and Prestwich suffering particularly), which might just reflect GBG allocation limits, but I certainly see cask as a minority choice in many locals now. Prices have also rose sharply over the years, which can’t help.
Until this week I’d only really enjoyed Holt recently in the Railway, a freehouse (?) on Stockport’s Wellington Road North, and a frequent pre-match stop. During the interval at the Manchester Cathedral Low gig (only Punk IPA in cans), I popped in the Crown and Anchor next door, and was immediately impressed. This has always seemed a poor relation to the two Shambles giants (Wellington and Oysters) with their vertical drinking and bouncers, but the C&A was pleasantly busy with a real mix of drinkers.
Although clearly catering to a very wide range of drinkers and casual diners, the unusual display and dispense of real ales showed an ongoing commitment, and the Mild was very tasty (NBSS 3) for well under £3. The music in one part of the pub was good two, and some investment had clearly been made in the sound system.
Although this wouldn’t be the first pub I’d point visitors to the city to, it certainly shows off traditional beers and pub values well.