Roll out the barrels

Beer festival organisers herald another successful festival

An extended version of the review from our April – June 2019 issue…..

There was a treat in store for visitors to the preview session of January’s Manchester Beer and Cider Festival when the UK’s only independent Master Cooper gave a demonstration of his craft.

Organisers invited Alastair Simms from Yorkshire Cooperage to complement one of the new attractions, the Beers from the Wood bar. Arranged with support from the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, both Alastair and the bar proved big hits with festival goers at Manchester Central’s great hall. The bar was so popular, it had been drunk dry three hours before Saturday’s closing time, as drinkers sampled both traditional and new beers put into oak and chestnut barrels.

Photo: James Darcey

A team of more than 330 volunteers built the festival in under four days, served an incredible selection of drinks across 24 bars and dismantled the whole event in just over a day. Organised by the combined expertise of the nine Greater Manchester branches of CAMRA plus others from further afield, our branches were proud to supply many of those who welcomed experienced beer and cider lovers as well as novices to the city.

Volunteer managers from our branches were responsible for the mammoth task of ordering those beers, sponsorship, site management, website, training, running the thirteen brewery bars, Hundred Club and KegStar bars and our volunteer desk. Although the festival attendance of 14,644 was less than the record-breaking total in 2018, organisers were delighted with the public response which reinforced the festival’s position as the biggest beer and cider festival in the North.

And drinkers didn’t just turn up. Many of the bars recorded an increase in consumption with an average 50 pints a minute consumed. A a staggering 51,085 pints of British and Irish beers were supped, the majority in cask. The brewery bars accounted for almost a third of that total. The Kegstar sponsored bar almost sold out of its 2,832 pints. The cider and perry bar was also busy with 3,614 pints consumed of the 117 ciders and perry on offer. Drinkers particularly enjoyed the increased choice of ciders with added fruit and spices. And the new gin bar was also a success with more than 60 bottles consumed, drawn mainly from the region’s producers.  

Photo: James Darcey

With a strong selection of ales brewed exclusively for the festival, put in cask or in wooden barrels, beer tickers were in their element.  Brewery bar Tiny Rebel of Newport won the race to be the first beer to sell out as its ‘Hazelnut Stay Puft’ disappeared, with local brewer Cloudwater not far behind with the first cask of ‘Pale’. 

Our area’s breweries were among the highlights of the festival. Blackjack, Outstanding and Runaway all ran their own brewery bars with great success.      

But the festival wasn’t just about consumption. CAMRA’s Information and Education team had a stand to pilot the campaign’s resolution to improve the knowledge around beer ingredients, production, quality and dispense.  The Great Manchester Beer Debate on the Saturday (with the added attraction of free beer) drew a lively crowd. Focusing on the future of cask beer, the panel of brewers and beer writers interacted with the audience and issues of quality control and price were to the fore. And there were four popular tutored tastings led by former Good Beer Guide editor Roger Protz, beer blogger Kirsty Walker and local beer writer John Clarke.

The Manchester Brewers’ Challenge caused something of a stir in its inaugural year in 2018 when judges in a blind tasting voted a keg beer the winner. So perhaps it was less of a surprise when this year’s winner, Pomona Island’s Love Buzz was announced. The best keg beer, organisers hurriedly arranged with the Salford brewery for more supplies to be brought in as drinkers made a beeline to try the 3.3% table beer. The best cask was adjudged to be Hophurst brewery’s Porteresque (5.5%), a full-bodied milkshake porter.

Last year’s runner-up in the North of England Cider competition went one better. Ampleforth Abbey’s ‘Traditional Still’ won the gold, but customers voted Hedge-Hoggers ‘Old Aged Pig’, produced in Seamer, North Yorkshire as their favourite.

The North of England Perry competition saw another triumph for a 2018 runner-up. ‘Udders Orchard from Huddersfield took the honours with ‘Waterloo Sunset’.  The 7.0% example was also the customer’s choice.

Drinkers also voted for their beer of the festival. North Yorkshire’s Brass Castle brewery recorded an astonishing double success, with two of its brews topping the poll. The brewery has been successful in attracting the popular vote before, but it it is the first time any brewery has had two beers in the top three.

It was perhaps even more remarkable as a new beer launched at the festival proved the customers’ favourite. Fruit Lupe, a 4.8% ABV single hop pale ale was available in both cask-conditioned and keg styles and drinkers clearly enjoyed the marriage of Mosaic hops with blueberry. Like all its beers, Fruit Lupe is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. In second place was Bad Kitty, a 5.5% ABV chewy chocolate vanilla dream of a porter. Bad Kitty has featured in the top beers of the Manchester festival before, taking top spot in 2017, and second place last year. The cask-conditioned beer is part of the brewery’s core range, and clearly hits the spot for many festival goers.

Third place went to Thornbridge’s Lucaria Rocky Road. The brewery debuted its own brewery bar this year, and the 4.5% ABV porter was a rare cask-conditioned version. Described as a twist on its ice cream porter, the beer attracted those with a sweet tooth!

Festival organiser Adrian Saunders was full of praise for those contributing to the success of the festival, especially volunteers and sponsors. “We were a little anxious about attendances beforehand. Friday’s scheduling of a televised FA Cup tie featuring United, the Northern Rail strike and forecast bad weather for Saturday might have been problems, but Manchester didn’t let us down.

“We have a great band of key volunteers from all over the UK, and benefited from attracting sponsors new and old to the festival. All our bars were busy and the new bars – Thornbridge, Beers from the Wood and gin – sold well. But as we always recognise, the biggest thanks has to go to those who turn out in their thousands to support the festival. If you were one of them, cheers!”

The festival’s charity partner, North West Air Ambulance was also grateful to visitors. An impressive £5,300 was donated by drinkers to support the essential lifesaving work of the helicopter crews.