Many people see the national drink of England as a cup of tea, but with the proliferation of coffee shops on high streets across the nation splitting the vote, there’s an argument that it is in fact the humble pint. For the sake of this article, we will go with the latter. Bitter, Mild, Brown Ale, Old Ale, Stout, Porter and IPA are all English styles of beer, the creation of which have been perfected over generations.
Manchester is no stranger to a decent pint. Down in Stockport there’s the legendary Robinsons, turning out quality ale since 1849, JW Lees and Joseph Holt need no introduction, and many still mourn the loss of Boddingtons, ‘The Cream of Manchester’, since production of the cask-conditioned version was discontinued five years ago, ending the beer’s association with the city. Alongside the many iconic breweries, there are countless historic pubs, including The Britons Protection, The Castle Hotel, Peveril of the Peak, The Marble Arch and The Molly House, all of which serve as quirky reminders of the city’s industrial – and sometimes pre-industrial – past.
But Manchester isn’t just a place of old beers and historic pubs. Its craft beer scene is booming too. There are now more than 70 breweries operating in the Greater Manchester area, making it the biggest hub for the brewing industry outside of London. More than 50 of these businesses have opened within the past five years. One of these breweries, Cloudwater, has just made its way into fifth place on RateBeers’ Top 10 breweries in the world list, becoming the only UK brewery ever to do so.
Many of these independent breweries have begun to open their doors to the public at the weekend, allowing you to sample beers directly from the source and ensuring not only cheaper prices for the drinker, but also the continued success of these breweries as the money goes directly to them. Blackjack, Track Brewing Co, SQUAWK, Cloudwater, First Chop and The Runaway Brewery are just a few of those offering brewtaps for the discerning customer. These often come accompanied by music and food, meaning you can happily while away a day without having to leave.
All this alchemy has not gone unnoticed and led last year to the launch of the Manchester Beer Week, with over 10,000 people attending 94 events across 72 venues in Greater Manchester. This year it’s back and promises to be even better, and probably a lot boozier. The festival will cover a huge variety of events and will be a celebration of beer, pub culture, the brewing industry and beer’s relationship with food. But although beer is the common thread of the festival, don’t expect to be looking solely at the bottom of a pint glass for ten days. The festival will also encompass art, history and music in the hope that it will be a major cultural attraction for those within the city and beyond.
The opening weekend is scheduled to showcase the burgeoning indie scene, with breweries opening their doors to the public for tours, tasting and talks. According to Conor Murphy, the festival organiser, the intention for this is to “create a carnival atmosphere across Manchester’s brewing hubs in Piccadilly and the Green Quarter”. They’re also planning a series of special events in the city’s bars, pubs and restaurants synonymous with Manchester’s home-grown beer scene.
Manchester Beer Week promises to shine a spotlight on the region’s independent craftspeople, but don’t wait until June to get involved. Head down to one of the regular brewtaps held by the breweries to make a start on exploring the city’s ales. With Manchester’s brewing scene in superb shape at the moment, there’s no time like the present to sample its many delights.
This year’s Manchester Beer Week runs from Friday 23 June to Sunday 2 July at venues across the region.