Short breaks in the last few years seem to have been taken me on a magical mystery tour of some of the UK's Victorian seaside resorts - Southport, Alnmouth, Stonehaven, Bridlington and Lytham to name but a few, and now the latest of these was going be a number of days in the North-Western Lancashire town of Morecambe (home town of the late, great Eric Morecambe, né Eric Bartholomew). The town possibly has a bit more of a run-down reputation than some of the others mentioned above, but there's been a bit of development in the last decade or so, there seemed to be some decent pubs along the front and last (but definitely not least) there is also an excellent local brewery, Cross Bay Brewery, which I was scheduled to visit late one morning.
Outward travel was as follows:-
Train: Northern Line to Bare Halt
It's not too far a walk from the small station at Bare to the industrial estate where Cross Bay Brewery is located, but there is a mass of road & construction work happening around the nearby Sunnyfield Retail Park. I managed to miss most of this by zig-zagging through the car showrooms of Northgate Industrial Estate and I eventually ended up in Newgate Street where Google Maps had indicated Cross Bay Brewery should have been found. After a few minutes of fruitless searching I couldn't see any unit which resembled a brewery, but that changed when I turned the corner to find the large premises of Morecambe Bay Wines (or MBW) and hooray, there were a lot of casks out there in the yard which meant that a brewery had to be pretty close by.
Not too far into the yard I found head brewer Nick Taylor out shifting casks & pallets, and he was good enough to chat about the brewery and the beers they've been working on lately. The brewery started off as Brysons Brewery in the early 2000's but was sold to Morecambe Bay Wines when the original owner/brewer decided to retire and then changed its name to Cross Bay Brewery (after MBW owner Peter Cross) when they started brewing in 2011. This was done on a larger 28 barrel kit which came from Moorhouses, and Nick actually came up from Moorhouses with this kit and stayed on to eventually become head brewer (he worked at Moorhouses under Rob Hill, who would leave to found the Highland Brewing Co. in Orkney, not a bad teacher to have at all). Cross Bay (and Nick) then won a number of awards for their beers and seemed to be going from strength-to-strength, but parent company MBW almost went into administration in 2012 and were bought/merged into the large Bradford-based food-and-drinks conglomerate, Narang Group. This has led to improved distribution channels for Cross Bay, but there has also been a degree of tension between the original MBW people and the new Narang management. It may be that this means a more independent Cross Bay Brewery, more separate from MBW, but that may have to come with a change in brewery name at some point in the future. Nick then took me inside the brewery which occupies only a small section of the MBW unit, here assistant brewers Arthur and Dan were racking off from 1 of the 2 large racking vessels near the brewery entrance.
Also downstairs are the large stainless steel fermenting vessels; although there are only 6 of these in use in the section the brewery uses today there used to be a lot more (I think a total of 13 was mentioned) but nowadays there is simply no free space available for all of these. Although they can brew to 28 barrels they normally only run with approximately 26, even then the yeast can still occasionally be somewhat lively (as can be seen in the very rightmost FV).
The grain mill, mash tun and the steam-fired copper are all located upstairs, allowing gravity to help with the transfer to all of the FVs. The kit is close to 20 years old and so everything is setup and controlled manually, but it still looks really quite new, and although Nick mentioned that the legs of the vessels have been replaced a few times, it's obviously been very well maintained. The other vessel at the far end is a large Clean-In-Place (CIP) unit but Nick indicated that it had hardly ever been used and really should have been removed years ago.
Today there were brewing Zenith, their award-winning IPA, and the tropical-fruit aromas when I popped my head into the copper were fantastic.
Cross Bay have an extensive range of core beers, ticking the boxes with everything from golden ales, bitters, IPAs, porters and stouts and these use hops from all around the world, but Nick also turns his hand to a number of seasonals or beer festival specials, including a saison (Sand Pilot), a blueberry wit (Project B) and a Green Hop beer (Green Eyed Monster), the latter using incredibly fresh First Gold hops. The latest special is the Morecambe's Sunshine beer brewed for fundraising around the Morecambe and Wise Sunshine Garden of Fame, although it is only the statue of Eric Morecambe that is pictured and not the great comedian himself (licensing issues around Eric Morecambe are a bit tricky).
Many thanks indeed to Nick for the look around and the always interesting beer chat and I left with a couple of bottles of the Morecambe's Sunshine beer in exchange for a bottle of my Craft Beer Kitchen beer (I think I got the better deal, Morecambe's Sunshine turned out to be a lovely light citrus golden ale, with a definite red-berry, bitter-fruit finish). By coincidence there was also just a single bottle of Morecambe's Sunshine beer left at The Wineyard and Deli, one of the specialist shops which line Princes Crescent, a lovely street which leads from Bare to the main Promenade along Morecambe Bay (a couple of miles out from the centre of Morecambe).
Although there was a range of Cross Bay Brewery beers in the window, as well as an additional number of local & Belgian beers, when I first entered the shop I was a bit disappointed at the beer choice (or complete lack of it). However that was before I was ushered into 'Brewery Lane' (there's a real street sign here in the corridor and it came from Mitchell's of Lancaster when they closed the Old Brewery) which led me to a fairly large room at the back of the shop.
I liked this, surprises are always good (especially beery ones), and it was great to see a excellent selection of local beers (Fell, Eden, The Borough & Cross Bay), as well as US, Belgian and German bottles in amongst the beer signs and prints. They obviously take their beer seriously in here and I was quite happy to fill my always present 6-bottle beer carrier-bag from their shelves.
There were also mini-casks available, specialist glasses to buy and a good beer fridge in the corner. I was able to chat away to the owner (when he wasn't selling wine at the front of the shop) and it seems they rotate the stock of local beers quite regularly (apart from the Cross Bay beers) and they also do tastings (beer, wine, whisky & cheese) and hold the occasional meet-the-brewer event. It's just an excellent, local, independent, beer and wine shop.
The promenade from Bare to the centre of Morecambe along the length of Morecambe Bay is fantastic (and this extends almost into Heysham). The sea rushes in and out of the flat basin of Morecambe Bay incredibly quickly (and is thus perfect for Morecambe Bay mussels & cockles) and it's quite amazing the change in the sea even on a minute-to-minute basis. The backdrop of this are the fells & hills of the southern Lake District and there are a number of pieces of art which take advantage of this. At the very north end (just along from Princes Crescent at Bare) is the Venus and Cupid sculpture which I liked because of its textures and fluidity...
... and then the walk into the centre of Morecambe goes past an incredible number of hotels & B&Bs but eventually turns the corner somewhat to reach the start of the town centre which is probably marked by the distinctive Morecambe & Heysham Yacht Club race office.
From here on there are quite a few lovely pubs/restaurants facing Morecambe Bay, of which my favourites were probably The Palatine, a Lancaster Brewery pub which sells most of the Lancaster Brewery core beers, their monthly specials (the Lemon Grass was a lovely subtle thai-spice beer), a number of decent guest beers and also some great food (served with a smile) upstairs until 9pm...
...and also The Royal Bar, with some stunning Victorian decor inside, special food offers most nights and a not too bad a Royal Pale Ale house beer for all of £2.00 (possibly a Marston's beer, but I never found out the actual brewery, damn!).
Almost opposite The Royal Bar is a bronze statue of Eric Morecambe, the centre of a small plaza area (with further developments ongoing), and it's not too bad a likeness at all. This was replaced only a few months ago when someone attempted to steal the statue by sawing off one of the legs - quite bizarre.
Not bizarre at all (especially in a beer-related world) was this epic train beer journey that I chanced upon as I was checking untappd during this holiday break - a beer crawl from the birthplace of Eric (i.e. Morecambe) to that of Ernie (Morely in West Yorkshire). The guys involved managed a real time twitter update (on one of the days when I was in Morecambe) and then blogged about it afterwards - a most entertaining read. The guys obviously had their photograph taken with the Eric Morecambe statue and then further on from this centrepiece are the still being restored Winter Gardens and the impressive art deco features of the Midland Hotel which does a seriously excellent afternoon tea (booking in advance is almost essential for this, especially nearer the weekend) with some great views over Morecambe Bay from the Sun Terrace restaurant.
The last section of Morecambe that I visited was alongside the old Frontierland amusement park. This was closed and pretty well demolished between 1998-2000, but the Polo Tower high-rise ride still stands (albeit only as a mobile phone mast)...
... and the huge Ranch House pub is still operating.
This actually has a good selection of local cask ales (I had an excellent resiny & bitter Burscough Sutler's IPA), and as an homage to its Frontierland past, still has a side room with lots of arcade machines, fruit machine and always inviting toy grab-claws (no, I didn't win anything).
I didn't head into Heysham village where there is meant to be an excellent pub (The Royal Hotel), but instead ended up at The Eric Bartholomew, a JD Wetherspoon establishment close to Morecambe train station.
There are a few pictures and information panels on Eric & Ernie's career & lives but I was possibly a bit disappointed at how few (although it's a pub, not a museum). However when I visited the Gents I came across a far more impressive large stylised picture half way up the stairs - this was far more like it and a good way to end a visit to Morecambe.
Train: Northern Line from Morecambe