It’s no longer all about London. Regional cities have been shouting about their credentials until they were blue in the face and they are finally starting to be heard.
Manchester has always had a strong pub scene and a proud beer history but what we are now witnessing is a major increase in variety and selection, according to Manchester Beer Week festival organiser Connor Murphy.
‘More specialist venues are opening up that cater for niche audiences and, when it comes to beer, Manchester is hard to beat,’ he told Imbibe.
‘The changes in Manchester appear to have happened over a number of years,’ Murphy said. ‘It has taken a lot of hard work but things do seem to have accelerated in the past couple of years and a large number of on-trade venues are looking towards craft beer when defining their drinks offerings.’
There is also a good blend of traditional and modern, cask and craft, Murphy said. ‘We have everything from welcoming, spit-and-sawdust boozers to forward-thinking, high-concept bars, all providing something unique.’
Plenty of reason to be bullish, but Murphy is frank about the city’s shortcomings. ‘Where our city lags behind is in terms of food. We’re definitely getting there and have seen growth in the number of independent food venues but the overall quality standard probably still does not match that of London or even Leeds.’
When it comes to drink, Manchester has a rich history and this was one of the motivations behind organising a beer festival. ‘The city has a reputation for innovation going back more than a hundred years and this is still evident today,’ Murphy said. ‘The likes of Marble Brewery and the Marble Arch were early trendsetters in the modern craft beer movement and then Port Street Beer House helped to move things on further when it emerged six years ago.
Now in its second year, a big change to Manchester Beer Week 2017 is the collaboration between brewers and independent food and drinks producers. A handful of Manchester brewers will collaborate with producers to create a special beer for the festival. The producers include gin, coffee, bread, seafood, ice cream and a venue that creates top-quality meals from waste food.
‘We’re really excited to taste the results but, more importantly, it’s this spirit of collaboration that we really want to foster. This was one of the main reasons behind getting Manchester’s oldest brewery, JW Lees, to work with one of the most exciting new breweries, Cloudwater, for our official beer in year one.’
It also has the backing of Co-op. ‘Given our stated aim of increasing collaboration and collective effort through the Beer Week, we couldn’t have a more fitting sponsor than the Co-op,’ Murphy said. ‘Its involvement actually came about after one of their buyers attended an event in the first year – they were really enthused by what they saw and our partnership grew from there. Co-op has such a big presence, particularly in Manchester, so it represents a really exciting partnership for a young festival like ours’.
In its first iteration, 94 events were organised across more than 70 Manchester venues. ‘We want to attract people into the city and help them to appreciate what we have to offer [and]the on-trade is absolutely integral to Manchester Beer Week. Without their belief, collaboration and support, the event would be nothing.
‘By involving the on-trade, unlike traditional beer festivals, we are able to offer an incredibly varied range of events helping us to appeal to an even wider audience,’ Murphy added.
‘Through the marketing we provide, we can help many businesses that don’t have huge marketing budgets to reach a wider audience and find greater longevity through repeat custom.’
Manchester Beer Week runs from Friday 23 June to Sunday 2 July, www.mcrbeerweek.co.uk