On Saturday 23rd May me and Leanne made our way across the Pennines to Manchester Brewery Expo.
The premise was quite simple; over the 23rd and 24th May, eight breweries in the centre of Manchester would all open up for the public allowing them to come in, look around, go on tours and taste their beers. On the Saturday we went it was the five breweries nearest to Piccadilly Station; Track, Cloudwater, Alphabet, Privateer and Squawk.
We arrived at Cloudwater’s Barrel Store at 12pm to check in. Included in our £10 ticket price was a special MCR Brewery Expo pint glass, a leaflet with a map and most importantly, the drinks tokens for each brewery. We had planned ahead and first on our itinerary, just a few doors down the railway arches from the Barrel Store, was Track Brewing Co.
We were surprised walking into Track as it was bigger than expected – a full railway arch with a bar down the side, brewing kit at the front and seating a plenty. At the bar we cashed in our first token of the day (we were really surprised to receive a full PINT! – great value for the original ticket price). I chose Zaka (keg), this was a 4.8% European pale ale, almost like a lager. It was super clean, lemony and piney. Leanne opted for Ozark (cask) a more traditional pale at 4.4% very session-able but with a really great flavour – orange notes with a slight bitterness. These two beers were great and at this point we knew the day was going to be a good one….
On the Thursday before the Expo we had booked ourselves on a couple of the talks & tours via Eventbrite. Track was our first talk of the day with head brewer/owner; Sam. Plenty of people had turned up but with it being early in the day, anyone could join and we didn’t really need to book ahead. Sam talked us through how he came to set up the brewery inspired by his travels across South America by bike where he found amazing little micro breweries and pubs in almost every town. After coming back to the UK and working in various breweries he wanted to set one up in the centre of Manchester. We’re glad he did.
Cloudwater are doing something that no other brewery are doing. They don’t have a core range, but instead brew their beers in relation to the season and what fresh ingredients are available. Having tried a couple of their bottles before (Bergamot Hopfen Weisse & Spring 2015 IPA) we were excited to see what they had to offer and again had pre-booked on the talk & tank tasting.
The brewery itself was much bigger than Track and was the only one of the day not located under a railway arch. Instead, Cloudwater was hidden away in an industrial estate and could have easily been mistaken for a very dull office building. It was far from dull on the inside. The place seemed really big and it was obvious that they were set-up to do this kind of thing on a regular basis (and they do – check out their website).
Before the tank tasting we made sure we got ourselves a drink. Leanne picked the Camden Versus Cloudwater Marzen 6.6%, a collaboration beer between the two breweries. It was copper in colour and had a slight caramel taste. Leanne liked this but it wasn’t to my taste. I wanted something light and refreshing so picked the Farmhouse Radler at 4.1% – a nice light lemony beer.
After our drinks we checked in for the tour. The pre-booked tickets were needed here and there were no walk in spaces available. Co-founder Paul talked us through the kit and the way the brewery runs before inviting us to join a tank tasting. Here we got to try 10 different unfinished beers from the tank (including a glass of wort – yak). Paul explained that the guys run through the process every single day so they can asses the progress of each beer. We were sampling some of the Summer 2015 range and in our opinion the Farmhouse IPA is the one to watch. When a beer isn’t fully ready but tastes that good – you know it’s going to turn out great. We also tried a Rhubarb beer which was headed for some extra time in large wooden barrels. Paul and the team didn’t think it tasted as rhubarb as it should – its nice to see how they changed the plan when it didn’t meet expectations. You don’t often appreciate the work behind a beer when you’re drinking in the pub.
The tank tasting was soon over and everyone slowly moved on, however me, Leanne and Mark ending up staying behind to talk Paul for quite some time. Having spoken to him briefly at a meet the brewer event at Tallboys, it is clear to see that he has a great passion for brewing great beer, and doing it in a unique way.
Just round the corner from Cloudwater, underneath a railway arch is Alphabet. Like most start up breweries they only have a small kit but what is clear to see here is that they have a great space they can grow into.
They had some great beers on tap here, I went for the Space Invader. This was a crazy 6% pink grapefruit farmhouse saison with tarragon – it was fruity and light as you can imagine! Leanne went for their oatmeal American pale ale; A to the K (5.6%) – a hazy beer that went down a treat. Alphabet were one of the few breweries that served food. They had a Malay food stall serving authentic Malay street dishes – the smell was mouthwatering.
The atmosphere was great – plenty of people but not too busy. A DJ was set up at the back and most people sat outside thanks to the unusually sunny Manchester weather. We wish could have spent more time here, but keeping to our itinerary, it was time to move on.
The smallest brewery of the day was Privateer, a cask beer focussed operation. Leanne accidentally left her Expo glass at Alphabet so had to move on to the plastic ones. The day was open to non-ticket holders too so luckily there were plenty of spare glasses for anyone wanting to purchase a drink. I had the Dainty Blond which was a solid 4.2% blond beer. It was a good quality cask ale but unfortunately didn’t leave a lasting impression. Leanne had the Red Duke 4.8% – it was bitter and red so a winner in her eyes.
Squawk was our final destination of the day, right under Ardwick train station. We were booked on a 5.30pm talk, so had time for a quick beer beforehand. We used the last of our beer tokens on a fruity IPA at 6.7% and a low abv quaffable American Pale, Small Pale at 2.8%. After a day of drinking, hunger soon struck and it was time for some grub. Thankfully Squawk had also catered for hungry beer lovers and was serving up chicken or lamb tagine with cous cous for a bargain £4. We had the chicken and it was absolutely delicious.
Time for the talk with Oli. What we really got from this talk was the size of the operation and what a small scale he was working on. Going into beer shops and seeing all of these bottles of beer you assume that there is a big team and high tech machinery behind it all. For most of the breweries we visited it was just a few people or one brewer. At Squawk it’s just Oli – brewing the beer, filling casks, bottling and capping (“one hand for filling one hand for bottling!”). This made it all the more impressive.
We just had time for a final drink with Tom who we had seen at a few of the breweries earlier in the day. You can check out some of his pictures here. We were recommended to try the Bean Brothers Espresso Stout. This wasn’t available when we ordered but later on one of the bar guys brought us a glass to try – on the house. This pretty much summed up the hospitality from all the breweries throughout the day. Generous, welcoming and friendly. The beer was great too.
We thought the day was a complete success. It was great to go visit some new breweries that we hadn’t heard of and that were just starting up. What was really enjoyable was the relaxed vibe and great atmosphere. We drank great beer, learnt many things and talked to beer lovers and brewers alike. It was also clear to see that none of these breweries are working in competition they are just wanting to put Manchester breweries on the map. After the long days of brewing and evenings organising the Expo they have become closer and are interested in sharing their own practices and experiences. We can’t wait for the next event to head back over the Pennines for another great day.
Simon’s beer of the day – Track – Zaka 4.8%
Leanne’s beer of the day – Track – Ozark 4.4%