An insight into who's brewing what over on the other side of The Pennines...
Over in the North West, something's brewing. Manchester has always been home to a decent pint, but these days the beer scene is booming. There are now over 60 breweries in Manchester*, a good two thirds of which have started up in the last five or six years, with roughly half of those newcomers opening in 2014 alone. From old-school cask Bitter and American-inspired IPA to keg-conditioned, heavily-hopped Sour Pale Ale and citrus-infused Gose, the brewers of Manchester are following their own individual paths and, in doing so, creating a rich tapestry of tradition, innovation, and collaboration.
If I were to attempt to cover every brewery in Manchester this piece would no doubt end up like my second year uni essays - perpetually unfinished - so please forgive my inevitable personal prejudices as I present just a few of the Mancunian breweries I find most interesting...
Stockport-based Quantum produce some fantastic beers such as Stockport Sour (the inclusion of pineapple and Scotch Bonnet chillies makes for a zingy beer with a slow-growing burn), Brett C Pale (fruity, dry and lightly funky, a perfect summer beer), and Imperial Buckwheat Stout (rich, smooth and creamy, this was one of my favourite beers at this year's Manchester Beer and Cider Festival). Look out for their single hop Mandarina Bavaria for a great example of this hop's distinctive orange character.
With their core range consisting of a Pale Ale, IPA, American Brown Ale and Smoked Porter, Runaway are consistently brewing clean, satisfying, delicious examples of these styles. Their inclusion on the menu at Hawksmoor's Manchester branch is testament to their quality. Seasonal brews such as Gingerbread Stout and Marzen Lager are also worth seeking out. Heads up: You can meet the lovely chaps from Runaway in person at a tasting event at the Little Leeds Beer House on Thursday April 23rd.
Primarily producing modern sour beer inspired by the brewing traditions of continental Europe, Chorlton Brewing Company has piqued the interest of beer fans across the country with Dark Matter (an Imperial Black Gose), Woodruff Berliner (a take on the bright green syrup normally served with Berliner Weisse) and their range of zesty Sour Pale Ales (the most recent being Citra Sour). I'm a big fan of sour beer, but even if you're not, keep an eye out for Chorlton; openness and accessibility are key for them, and you might just change your mind.
There's been a lot of attention surrounding Cloudwater, one of the newest additions to Manchester's brewing scene. Rejecting the concept of a set of core beers in favour of a range which will shift with the changing seasons, their Spring range was launched with a countrywide tour of tap takeovers and Meet the Brewer events. In addition to their relatively large brewery, they also have a second space devoted to ageing beers in wooden barrels, where wild yeasts can run free adding that special funky note that so many of us love. Very exciting.
Founded in 1998, Marble Brewery is pretty much synonymous with Manchester. A couple of their beers have been tweaked and tightened up since current head brewer Matt joined the team: Pint is on top form, with the bitterness dialled back slightly, and Best now has more of a traditional Best Bitter profile, using English hops such as Bramling Cross. Earl Grey IPA, however, has largely remained the same, and I must admit it's one of my favourite beers in the world. The bergamot and the citrusy hops mingle to create something dry yet wonderfully refreshing. You can now find it on keg as well as cask, and if you're lucky enough to see both on the bar at once, a side-by-side comparison tasting is always good fun!
Over the Easter Bank Holiday, Chorlton Brewing Company held their first open weekend, playing host to fellow brewers such as Geipel and Mad Hatter, and Cloudwater opened their doors for their first Brewery Tap. Enjoying a couple of beers at a brewery seems to be the favoured new weekend activity for Mancunian beer enthusiasts, and they're going to be spoiled for choice on the weekend of the Spring Bank Holiday (23rd and 24th May), when the inaugural Manchester Brewery Expo kicks off. An open door brewery festival with tours, tasting events and special collaborative brews, this event promises to firmly cement itself in Manchester's beery calendar alongside IndyMan and Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. Make your way over to their Twitter feed for more info, as tickets will be available soon.