Manchester – A City United By Beer

Lees Logo

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Last week, I witnessed the historic collaboration between Manchester’s oldest and one of its newest breweries. A day I enjoyed hugely, for all kinds of reasons. The day that the festival beer was brewed for Manchester Beer Week – the brainchild of that impudent young blogging pup, Connor Murphy, a young man for whom some form of beery canonisation beckons.

That day can be read about here.

On the day, an alarming thought struck me. “This beer is supposed to be ready for a launch on 26th. A mere 8 days away. It can’t work”

But here we are. On 26th May. A mere 8 days later, invite in hand…..

Rain Bar

(pic : http://www.rain-bar.co.uk/)

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….to drink THIS beer. For the first time.

Being furnished with a couple of tokens on entry, the Arch-Nemesis & I headed for the bar. For a pint – naturally – of Manchester Fold. And settled down to the onerous business of chatting with beery pals of all shades.

It’s hard work this convivial drinking and chatting bollocks you know! With me, the chatting bollocks comes as standard.

I was pleasantly surprised to be remembered by both Michael Lees-Jones and Paul Wood from Lees and had excellent chats with both. I think that there were a few nerves as to how the beer would turn out – especially given it was being drunk only 8 days after the grain hit the mash tun!

After a brief intro from William Lees-Jones, Michael Lees-Jones (Head Brewer) talked and seemed genuinely thrilled as to how the beer had come out. It was obvious that he truly enjoyed the brew day and having a few of us around – showing us the old place. Lees don’t do brewery tours for the public, so that was a big thing for me too.

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Then, a hoarse Paul Jones from Cloudwater (sounding like Vincent Price at his sinister best!) talked about their involvement in this historic beer and gave due and hearty praise to Connor for his efforts in not only putting together this collaboration, but for the whole Manchester Beer Week shebang. A truly impressive effort.

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Given the reason why we were there, Connor made some very salient points about the divide that seems to exist between traditional beer and the more craft side, A divide that (and I agree here) seems daft. For all that more modern breweries may be influenced by the US scene, people easily forget how some of the pathfinders of the US brewing scene were influenced by traditional UK breweries.

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(fellow blogger Mark chatting with Michael Lees-Jones)

The beer itself? Manchester Fold. A tawny coloured ale. It’s fair to say it’s as fragrantly hoppy as Lees have gotten. That’s the Cloudwater influence at work I think. It’s actually a bloody good beer. Full bodied for 4.8%, it’s really well-balanced and brimming with the fruity hoppy character of the Olicana hop. It really comes across as a Lees beer with a distinct Cloudwater stamp on it. And it works. So well.

It was certainly going down well last night!

Given that the consensus that it may have been “a bit green” after only a few days from the brew, this could be superb on the official launch day*. That said, there were 4 x 18 gallon casks sent to Rain Bar. This beer may have been good last night, but it will get even better over the weekend (if they keep it on that is!)

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Really enjoyed talking with Michael & Paul Wood from Lees. Men with a true passion for what they do. Managed to a bit of plot hatching with the blogging Yoda that is Tandleman too (something you can savour at ISBF!) And it’s always a pleasure to speak with Connor, his talented Dad Eamonn (Just check those designs and that website – stunning), not to mention that Prince of men John Clarke and young Mr Johnson too!

*That launch party. Now in The Marble Arch on 10th June promises to be an absolute corker!

Historic Manchester beer. Groundbreaking Manchester event. In THE iconic Manchester pub.

A proud night for all beer loving Mancunians. Again, the boy Murphy done good.

I think Manchester is ready. Roll on Manchester Beer Week.

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Manchester – Where It’s At?

Cotopaxi

“There’s a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turn low
The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow

Pulling out jives and jamboree handouts
Two turntables and a microphone
Bottles and cans just clap your hands
Just clap your hands

Where it’s at!
I got two turntables and a microphone…. “

(“Where It’s At” – Beck : YouTube Clip – GrandMa Bird)

On Friday evening, I returned home from a day at New Mills Beer Festival (bijou – as in small – to say the least) via Manchester. No plan to have a beer in “Town” at the start of the day, but plans, as you well know, have a habit of being…… shall we say…. dynamic?

Anyway. Having deposited a bottle of the most excellent “American Barleywine” by Torrside with the Arch Nemesis, I hobbled towards the Crown & Kettle.

The objective? Cotopaxi DIPA by Track. On cask.

A rare thing to see a DIPA on cask. I was lucky to try the first DIPA brewed by Cloudwater on cask on its launch day last year and (at the time) enjoyed it marginally more than the keg and bottle. A marvelous beer in the truest sense in that I wondered at the flavour and texture being far lighter (and almost “sessionable”) than a 9% beer had any right to be.

The Track was big and juicy. Chewy malt and huge hopping giving a real balance. In an age where balance is deemed unfashionable. It amazes me how brewers make such beers so eminently drinkable.

Then we went to The Smithfield. Where it was on keg.

WOW. What a difference! The carbonation and – dare I say it – the temperature, made a HUGE  difference. The beer was lifted and lightened. The hops soared over the malty landscape and simply stunned me.

From a vaguely remembered conversation with Sam (Mr Track), I seem to recall that he preferred it on cask in some ways . I have to disagree (Memory, O fickle thing!). He prefers it on keg.  And I never thought I would agree with those who say that certain styles suit Keg. This beer danced. And got me thinking….

Is this city where it’s at, beer wise?

Cask Beer – Is there a better session pale ale than Sonoma by Track? I haven’t had a better pale ale in cask in the last 12 months. Juicy, punchy and smooth. Just an absolute go to. For someone who doesn’t normally have such beers.

Manchester is choc full of great breweries banging out superb cask conditioned beers. Nowhere better. Let’s be hearing those arguments, down below.

“Craft” Keg – Unless you’ve been in hibernation for the last 7 days, you won’t have missed the reams of web inches splaffed on Cloudwater’s DIPA v3, if it’s a patch on v1 it will be a classic. They’ve been slipping out some simply stunning lagers too, vastly underrated when compared to the DIPA and IPA.

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Marble seem to be under the radar of late. But with James Kemp keen to put a stamp on the brewery, they’ve put out two crackers with Damage Plan & Built to Fall. For me, still THE brewery in Manchester all round.

However, the beer that has made my taste buds sing more than any other on keg is from Runaway. Their Pale. I’ve had it a few times in the last fortnight and it is absolutely WAILING! So fresh, light and just zipping out of that glass. Simply stunning. (The American Brown is a bit special too)

And if somebody wants to put London up? Other than Weird Beard, I’m not convinced by the hype around many London breweries. I’m just not. That isn’t parochialism. Just my taste buds talking to me.

Manchester also has an absolutely BANGING set of brewtaps that are coming into their own at this time of year too. Black Jack / Runaway (On tomorrow!) / SquawkTrack all pack out their arches with stunning beers and great food (none too shabby tunes either….) and with people like Beer Nouveau regularly opening their doors too, there’s something for everyone!

The drinking area where I struggle to justify the primacy of my beloved city is……. Pubs. It has so MANY cracking bars that you’d struggle to keep up, but….

Manchester has a thriving beer scene – Christ KNOWS I’ve been waffling on about it for long enough. This scene will be placed front and centre in June when Connor Murphy rolls out the fullness of Manchester Beer Week. Something to which I’m looking forward to hugely – I may even be…….. Ah. That’s for another time

Where this city falls – slightly – short, is in a concentration of classic freehouses. It has great pubs. But many of these are hobbled by pubco ownership which restricts the beer supply to – for me – the larger regional breweries and the huge firms like Marstons (eg Bulls Head) & Greene King (Lass O’Gowrie).

Go to places like Sheffield, Huddersfield & Liverpool though and they appear to be over endowed with classic pubs that also dispense great local beers. I was awe-struck and incredibly jealous when I strolled around both H Town & Sheff last year and wandered around in an impressed daze when we went to Liverpool recently.

Yes. We have The Marble Arch, The Crown & Kettle, but little else in the way of truly great beautiful pubs, with truly great beer. Too many pubs hobbled by pubco control – that’s a whole other argument though.

Manchester is a city where bars shine. Port Street, Pie & Ale, (Marble’s own) 57 Thomas Street, Soup Kitchen, Font, Sandbar…..the list goes on.

On balance – in the North, for sure – Manchester has “it”. For me in any case.

That’s enough inflation of that “Manchester Bubble” from me – for now. Next stop, Hebden Bridge!

Back soon.