Marble Beers have been at the forefront of Manchester’s brewing scene for over 20 years. They have come a long way since the legendary Brendan Dobbin first helped install a second hand four-barrel plant in the rear of the Marble Arch pub with the fermenters in the cellar of the pub in 1997.
In 2009 the brewery moved just down the hill from the Marble Arch to a new 12-barrel plant in premises on Williamson Street. Now as they enter their 22nd year, they have said farewell to Manchester and relocated to new premises in Salford with a shiny new 2,500 litre (approximately 15 barrel) state of the art plant installed by premium brewery fabricator Gravity Systems, who have been responsible for installations at leading breweries including The Kernel, Wylam and Burning Sky.
At the helm of the brewery since the beginning has been director Jan Rogers.
Jan and then partner Vance de Bechevel were already successful operators at the forefront of the burgeoning micro-brewing scene in the 1990s with Vance having taken on The Marble Arch in 1988 and the couple going on to run Chorlton’s Marble World Beers Off-licence (living above the shop), followed by the nearby The Bar and Bar 2 when they began the brewery.
Beer Buzz met up with Jan at The Marble Arch to explore the Marble Beers journey.
Why did you decide to set up a brewery?
It was partly for the economics of selling our own beer but also to give people a reason to come to the pub. Even in 1997, competition was tough. Manchester was cool with the Hacienda, Dry Bar, etc, but the Marble Arch wasn’t cool. We needed to help keep the pub in the local consciousness – a brewery was a unique offering.
How did the brewery begin?
Right back from 1988, the Arch had sold beers from Brendan Dobbin’s West Coast Brewery along with Tony Allen’s Phoenix Brewery. Brendan found us the brewery plant and provided many of the original recipes. Mark Dade was running the pub and became the first brewer.
Initially we only sold the beer in our own pubs but others were wanting our beer elsewhere so we started selling the odd cask. Sales began to grow organically. When Mark left to set up Boggart Hole Clough brewery, it was Brendan that found us James Campbell and it was the triumvirate of James, Dominic Driscoll and Colin Strong that really built our reputation.
Why did the brewery move out of The Arch?
We had outgrown the space we had and the building was crumbling around it. We did look at putting an extension on the back of the pub to house the new brewery but the finances just didn’t work out.
So we moved to a railway arch with a brand new kit from Vince Johnson Brewing Design. The brewers had space and were having a ball making some amazing beers. As sales continued to grow, we learnt that a split-level site maybe wasn’t the best idea. By the end, it was not a great place to work – everybody was falling over themselves in the brewery and the office staff were half a mile away above 57 Thomas Street.
And so a move to Salford?
We spent a long time looking for a new site in the local area, we met with every agency, lots of developers. But with all the development around the Green Quarter, with every space we found, there was a more lucrative use for the space than running a brewery. So eventually we looked elsewhere and found the new site near Media City.
It’s great that we’ve been able to bring the whole team back together – head office and brewery all in one building. People are getting used to travelling a bit further to work and there is a bit of relearning of sharing a space required – the brewers can’t have their music as loud as they like it for a start – but we are getting there.
The first Marble brewery kit went on to a new life with Blackjack Beers. What’s happened to the second one?
We sold it to Brinkburn Street Brewery in Newcastle Upon Tyne. We’ve known the owner there Lee Renshaw for some time and helped him start his business. Now they are increasing their production, it’s great to have been able to help them again.
The new Marble plant is relatively modest by modern standards. Was there not a temptation to get a bigger kit?
We like the size we are. We are growing modestly but there’s a duty break at 5,000 hectolitres a year and we have no current ambitions to grow beyond that. The new plant and site does allow room to grow in the future but that will be something for Joe (Head of Production) to look at when the time comes.
The brewers have got a couple of 50hl tanks which allows the team to brew enough Manchester Bitter and Pint to meet demand – they are the backbone of the brewery and give the brewers the freedom to make other beers.
Joe may decide to grow beyond 5,000 hl at some point but for now we are happy.
So Marble won’t be appearing on supermarket shelves nationwide any time soon?
I have nothing against supermarkets and it’s great that people can pick up a great tasting beer with their shopping. But as a businesswoman, it’s not for me – I don’t like the control that big businesses like that can have over their suppliers. We did work with Waitrose through Fullers, but Fullers dealt with that side.
I don’t begrudge those that have gone down the supermarket route, each to their own and if that’s a model that suits them, all power to them. But ultimately, if supermarkets were the be all and end all, there would only be a handful of breweries left. We like being small, we like being independent and intend to stay that way.
Where do you see Marble fitting in to the ‘craft’ scene.
That’s for you to tell us.
I don’t consider us ‘craft’ – we just do what we do. We do ‘traditional’ and we do ‘modern’ – I don’t know what that makes us. We were called ‘New Wave’ at one point but that didn’t seem right either.
Our mission is to straddle the genres. We want people to appreciate the full spectrum that beer has to offer. There is still a lot going for the subtle flavours of a pint of traditional English ale. There does seem to be a growing appreciation that there is more to beer than 12% stouts and extremely hopped beers and that’s something we are passionate about.
Hopefully we are seeing the end of the beer scene arguing about different styles and different formats with people learning that it all has its place and is what makes beer great.
We’ve got a really great and stable team down the brewery. Joe is at the helm, organising and planning. He started at Phoenix in Heywood and through his time with Buxton and Magic Rock, he’s got the experience of a growing brewery.
Slaw is lead brewer and is about to step up to run the brewery while Joe is on paternity leave. I asked him recently if he was going to be OK when Joe goes on leave – “No problem”, he said, “I’ve done it before (when Matt Howgate left)”. Paul and Carl have been with us for a few years now, providing solid backup to Joe and Slaw, and we’ve just taken on Andy who has joined us from Phoenix. And last but no means least is Graham running the dray.
The brewery will have a tap room?
Yes, it won’t be large and it won’t be fancy but we are looking forward to welcoming people to the brewery. We’ve built a blockwork bar but the rest of the design is only just coming together. We plan to offer eight keg beers and three cask and will open Thursday and Friday late afternoon/evening then all day Saturday and Sunday.
With Seven Bro7hers and Pomona Island Breweries and taprooms just the other side of Weaste cemetery, we hope people will come out and see us.
We also plan to offer brewery tours – something we just couldn’t do at the old site as it wasn’t safe to do so.
The Marble Beers Tap Room is expected to be open by the time Beer Buzz hits the streets. It will open from Thursday to Sunday offering eight keg lines and three cask lines. It’s located at 7 Boston Court, Salford, M50 2GN. Nearest Metrolink stop Langworthy.