Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin
(Good health, a long life, a wet mouth, and death in Mann)
When I raised my plastic pint glass in celebration outside The Railway Inn in Union Mills, there were plenty of reasons why. For one thing, we’d made it: our four hour early-am ferry ride over the Irish sea was over, our tent was up, we’d napped, showered, eaten bacon and egg butties from a van and walked until we found a pub. For another, a stunt team had arrived out of nowhere on an army of Honda c90s, and proceeded to race up the steps of that same pub, through the bar and into the beer garden out the back. In general though, I felt elated that I was here, on this island, with thousands of other people just as excited to be there as I was.
|A man driving into a pub on a Honda c90
The Railway Inn sits on the elbow of Union Mills, the first right-handed bend before a swift S on a busy 30mph road just before the local Methodist church and the old post office. Usually steady with traffic moving to-and-from Peel, today nobody’s on it. We’re not even allowed to step on the pavement. The sun has strengthened to a midday sizzle in a stonewashed denim sky. Red and white crash barriers, hot to the touch, stand between us, Victorian stone walls and the road. A set of yellow crowd control bars have been shifted to block off a connecting minor junction, to state in full-colour that we are not to leave our temporary island, and that we should stay here, where it’s safe, where we can be out of the way, and where we’re in close proximity to good beer, clean toilets and burgers with fried onions. We tune in our radios to the local station as heat shimmers over the tarmac and we listen for the first chupa-chupa-chupa of the press helicopter, announcing the advance of today’s heroes.
I knew as soon as I arrived at The Railway that it would end up in my heart. What you’d call a “proper” pub, its white walls reminded me of the Lake District, much like the endless country roads across the island lined with rhododendrons blooming in pink and purple, and hornbeams growing across the road in high, green archways. Inside, the stone flagged floor and comfy lounge rooms made me briefly wish for snow, so the fireplaces could be lit. One of the rooms had a TV, reserved for Moto GP and British Superbikes and it was packed with bikers ready to move out of my way at any moment. And the loos – clean, airy, bright and with the day’s racing piped through the speakers, they were a chilled haven. Any person visiting the toilets at The Railway will tell you the same. I mention it because it’s important. The owners could easily let them fall to ruin and they’d still have thousands of visitors every TT season, but they don’t. They care. That’s a glaring sign of a good pub.
The beers on offer were all TT-specific and named to suit the island’s 40,000 motorbike fanciers who would visit over the main three weeks of practice races and main events. I did my best to try them all for the sake of fair journalism and I can say quite confidently that I didn’t have a bad beer on the Isle of Man. This is mostly thanks to two local breweries on the island, The Hooded Ram
who between them had an excellent selection of bitters, IPAs, dark ales and even a delicious lager with just enough yeastiness to make me happy by Bushy’s called Norseman, which went perfectly with a seaside sit-down on my third worse-for-wear day.
|Repping Manx Radio TT and 100 other local businesses with my snazzy Norseman cup
I found out while I was over there that the Isle of Man has its own purity laws brought in by the founder of local brewery Okells, dating back to 1874, allowing only malt, water, sugar, hops and yeast. While they were amended in 1999 to allow local breweries to make wheat and fruit beers, the law is maintained to ban the use of preservatives. Interestingly, this means for the most part, locals drink local ale as a matter of course. Manx people are fiercely patriotic about their beautiful little island. The beers aren’t dull, either. My favourite from my entire trip was Conrod by The Hooded Ram, a beautifully hoppy IPA with citrus notes that went perfectly with the freak heatwave. I mentioned in my usual, delicate way that it might actually be even more delicious with a bit of a carbonated kick and they replied:
We have our in can as Liberty East Coast Pale in our Hooded Ram Festival on the prom
— Hooded Ram (@HoodedRam) June 5, 2018
A bit of an explanation then: a con rod connects the piston to the crank shaft in an engine. This beer was also made by Manx rider Conor Cummins, who races for Padgetts and also gets called Conrod from time to time. See, when they make Liberty East Coast Pale at this time of year, it’s a biker pun for the TT Races! And also, I was right, it is nice when it’s fizzy.
The beers weren’t named after bike parts and racers just for the fun of it – Bushy’s and The Hooded Ram take an active interest in the TT Races, sponsoring events on Douglas promenade and helping the local pubs take advantage of the influx of thirsty mainlanders from all over the world. Bushy’s beer tent on Douglas prom has been a TT staple as long as anyone can remember, but now they have their own Bushy’s Village, with an even bigger beer tent, merch, and a huge stage for bands and food stalls. Bushy’s has a big biker following and maintained the feel of a bike rally well, even considering the outdoor Victorian winter gardens location. I felt like I was back at the Bulldog Bash, grinning uncontrollably at men with big bushy beards in leather pants trying to eat a 99 without losing credibility.
|Bushy’s Village now – there’s a giant stage behind that big beer tent too.
One of the most prominent features of Douglas seafront during my stay was the Hooded Ram festival area, with live music and stunt shows taking over the main road and prom for the whole TT season. As every performer and stunt rider was contractually obliged to state, it was entirely down to The Hooded Ram and its investors that such a large event should be able to happen in Douglas – which for the rest of the year is as much of a semi-deprived seaside town as Blackpool. While the marketing was aggressively overt, there was no denying that this was a local brewery sharing its wealth with the town it came from. Which I liked to see very much.
For me, this trip to the TT meant a lot. I’d not visited since I was six and there was so much I hadn’t understood or had forgotten. The atmosphere of togetherness was pretty intoxicating, and very unexpected. But, I guess if you force several thousand people with one common interest into a couple of small towns far out at sea, it’s not going to be long before they’re all getting drunk together.
And at The Railway, getting drunk with strangers was easy and fun, in the way that you wish every trip to the pub could be when you’re in the mood. I was there for the bikes, and the riders, but I didn’t expect the pubs to be such a huge part of what made my trip so unforgettable. When I look back, I’ll think about meeting Peter Hickman and seeing Dean Harrison win Supersport race 2, but I’ll also think about standing out of the front of that pub with a crowd of people, hemmed in by barriers, sun on my face, factor 50 in my eyes, anticipating the next rider, feeling the squeeze of my heart as the radio announces another sector record, pint of Bushy’s Shuttleworth Snap tightly clutched. And that’s why we’ve already booked our seats on the ferry next year.
Here’s to TT 2019. I can’t wait.
If you’ve reached the end of this blog post and are surprised that you enjoyed reading about motorbikes, why not let me know? I would very much appreciate a financial nod in the form of a Ko-Fi. Everything donated via this method goes towards my endless pursuit of beer knowledge. This time, I’m saving up for my Cicerone course. Thank you very much!