May saw the first ever ‘Manchester Brewery Expo’, a collaborative event held over two days by eight Manchester craft breweries.
I couldn’t make the Sunday when three ‘Green Quarter’ breweries – Marble, Blackjack and Runaway – opened their doors for tours, tastings, talks and of course, drinking.
But I attended the Saturday where five Piccadilly (ish) breweries did their best to replicate the Bermondsey Beer Mile, let’s call it the Manchester Mile.
Starting just around the corner from Piccadilly station at Cloudwater’s Barrel Store where we checked in and received: beer tokens, a badge, a pint glass – because you can never have too many – and a fairly pathetic map of the brewery locations.
Luckily I’d already made my own custom Google Map with the breweries and routes between them saved to it but I expected to see some lost, drunk people trying to follow these later on.
Conveniently, the first brewery Track are just a few doors away. So it wasn’t long before we were sat down with a beer.
Said beer was Track’s ‘Apostles’, a bitter amber ale with a touch of rye. An enjoyable start to the day.
Better still was ‘Sonoma’, a lovely light and fruity pale. Bursting with flavour for a sub-4% beer, thanks to an abundance of mosaic hops.
As the obvious first stop for most people, Track was one of the busiest breweries I saw. There was a really happy vibe and I spotted many industry types from all over the country, which was great to see.
Next was a short walk to Cloudwater.
It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan and nothing happened to change that. Their setup is clearly impressive but it all just feels a bit false to me.
Plus, they were the only brewery not accepting walk-ins and we had a mate without a ticket arriving soon, so we didn’t stay for long.
In fact, just long enough to sample their collaboration with London’s Camden Town brewery. The ‘Märzen’ is a modern take on a classic German style.
I’m never going to totally love a lager but I really enjoyed this. It’s got bags of flavour and not just the malts that I’d expected but a fruity, almost spicy hop profile too.
Somewhere else we didn’t stay long was Privateer, located under a railway arch on Temperance Street. Quite a trek from Cloudwater and requiring the crossing of some fairly busy main roads.
I was glad to be using modern technology to navigate rather than the feeble map provided.
By ‘not long’ what I really mean is, didn’t even bother going in.
Mainly because they were the only ‘cask only’ brewery and had just two beers on offer, a bitter and a bitter red ale. I’ve enjoyed both before but by that point they just didn’t appeal.
So we kept on walking to the furthest away brewery, just down the road in another railway arch, this time under Ardwick station.
Squawk was the quietest brewery we visited, presumably because of its location. A shame really as all in all I think it was my favourite. Both in terms of the beers and the overall space.
There was a nice relaxed atmosphere inside and a seating area made from the oddest selection of random tables and chairs.
They were the first we’d come across selling food too, the lamb tagine with cous cous looked fantastic but I’d already got my heart set on Malaysian street food from Nasi Lemak at our next stop.
I couldn’t resist helping myself to the free bread and olives though, and very good they were too.
Bean Brothers Coffee Company were also their serving coffee to anybody that wanted to taste the inspiration behind the beer.
I was tempted myself but ended up just getting another beer.
It was a half mile walk to our final stop, Alphabet (we didn’t do them in anything like a logical order).
Yet another location under a railway, I think I enjoyed the actual space here the most. Perhaps just because the bar and seating were outside and it was surprisingly sunny.
Or maybe it was because of the smells coming from Nasi Lemak’s street food stall!
Being the last stop and because there was such a good atmosphere outside we hung around for longer than any of the other breweries. So naturally I drank more beer.
They included Alphabet’s ‘Hop Damn’ a new black IPA that was pretty underwhelming.
‘Kerb Kicker’ was better though, as was the Jim Bean barrel aged version of their imperial stout ‘Crate Digger’.
But my favourite was ‘Canadian Chainsaw Massacre’ a maple syrup US brown.
I also drank a Shindigger IPA, as although not officially part of the Expo, they took advantage of the fact that they’d just moved in to share the premises with Alphabet.
The food from Nasi Lemak tasted as good as it smelled and was well worth the wait.
I enjoyed a ‘Korean Chilli Flat Iron Steak’ sandwich and lovely ‘Beef Rendang’, slow cooked beef in a rich and spicy sauce.
But surprisingly the highlight was ‘Salt & Pepper Chips’. These were pretty explosive and hugely addictive.
Besides the rubbish map and a bit of disorganisation at certain points I thought the inaugural Manchester Brewery Expo was a fantastic success.
I enjoyed every brewery and drank some good beers along the way. It was excellent value too with tickets costing less than £10 for the glass and five beers, which I’d expected to be small measures but most actually turned out to be pints.
But what impressed me most was the friendliness of both the crowd and the breweries themselves. It was great to see them working together and promoting each other when they could’ve so easily be competing.
Really the only disappointment for me was that Chorlton Brewery weren’t involved. Not only are they one of my favourite Manchester breweries but we literally walked past it to get to Squawk. Their beautiful sour beers would’ve been a welcome change from everything else on offer.
However, by some strange co-incidence, just as I was about to hit Publish on this post it was announced that from Saturday 25th July the ‘Piccadilly Beer Mile’ will actually be a thing!
Three of the Expo breweries, Alphabet, Squawk and Track will be joining Shindigger and Chorlton in opening their doors regularly on Saturday afternoons.
I’m sure it was the success of Mcr Brew Expo that proved it’s a viable option and that Manchester’s clearly thirsty for it. With the addition of Chrolton and a bit more experience there’s no reason it can’t be even better than the Expo, every week.
Date of Expo: 23.05.2015Follow @BeerGeekBlog Follow @FoodGeekUK