‘You don’t have to be a hardened beer geek to enjoy it’: Q&A with Manchester Beer Week organiser

When you get 10,000 visitors at the first time of asking you know you’re onto something.

Which is why Manchester Beer Week – a festival celebrating the city’s brewing talent as well as welcoming some of the best brewers from across the UK – returned in 2017.

From talks and historical walks to beer-inspired meals, the fun-filled 10-day event seeks to transform the city into a celebration of the country’s favourite drink.

There’s still time of course to check it out as it runs until July 2 and MM emailed festival organiser Connor Murphy to get the lowdown so far…

Hi Connor, thanks for your time! Do you think this year’s Manchester Beer Week will exceed the numbers you attracted last year?

We were really pleased with last year’s figures but I do believe we could do even better this year. Over a thousand people took to the streets of Manchester for our brewery expo on the opening weekend and the festival closes with two major beer festivals, at the Pilcrow and 53two, each of which should prove to be significant draws.

We’ve also noticed a greater degree of engagement from the public this year – it does seem the message about good beer is getting through.

Great to hear! Now more than ever, do you think it is important to be reminded of Manchester’s heritage and culture?

I think it’s always been important to have a healthy respect for Manchester’s heritage and culture. It’s a city that is so rich in both and the people who live here are rightly proud of that fact. This translates to the beer scene too – we boast some fabulous historical pubs and the four family brewers operating within the Greater Manchester area provide a clear link to the city’s past but, at the same time, there are many breweries and venues that are committed to seriously pushing the envelope.

That’s what Manchester does well: it continuously regenerates and embraces bold new ideas while remaining grounded in long-lasting foundations.

What is a personal highlight of the event?

I was really proud that we managed to get a number of independent food and drinks producers to collaborate with breweries and create some unique beers. For example, the beer produced by Marble Brewery and Holy Crab was a German-style, salted sour beer using pineapple, fennel and langoustines.

You simply won’t find that kind of creation very often but, beyond the beers, it was great to build a bridge between the city’s indie brewing industry and its growing food scene. 

These are the kinds of links we are determined to continue building on, encouraging collaboration between whole ranges of creative people across the city.

What has improved since last year?

Year one was a learning curve and we’ve already put a lot of the lessons from last year into action this time round. The venues and breweries also know what to expect, so have come up with more creative ideas that perfectly encapsulate what we are trying to achieve.

More generally, awareness of Manchester’s independent brewing scene continues to grow and many of these young breweries have continued to hone their craft. It’s an exciting time for beer in the city.

Is sexism in the beer Industry taken seriously enough?

I don’t think it is and that’s why I was so glad that we were able to work with Marble Brewery and beer writer Melissa Cole to put on a discussion about sexism and inclusion as part of this year’s festival.

Sexism, whether overt or subtle, is still prevalent in the way beer is branded, in the way people talk about beer and in the way women are occasionally treated at pubs, bars and beer festivals. It’s a larger societal issue but the beer industry must work to shake off the ‘macho’ tag it has attracted in the past.

Manchester has recently emerged as the beer capital of Britain. Do you think events like this help uphold this reputation?

That’s exactly what we hope this event achieves. We want to make Mancunians proud of their city at the same time as attracting new visitors into the city to explore its rich beer scene. You only have to look at the number of events and participants to see this city is incredibly passionate about beer.

What food compliments beer best?

It very much depends what you’re eating! Taking the good, old English favourite fish and chips, for example, and you want something with enough bitterness to cut through the fattiness of the batter but not so bold that it overpowers the delicate flavour of the fish.

So an old-school English bitter might work well but so too might a Belgian-style wit, thanks to its high carbonation, bittersweet flavour and cleansing citrus notes.

What would you say to encourage those who haven’t previously been before to go this year?

I’d ask them to put aside typical perceptions of beer. This festival shows that beer can offer something for almost every drinker – it’s incredibly versatile and can fit a wide range of social occasions.

We’ve tried hard to cater for more than just our hard-core audience by putting on events that draw in food, art, music and culture, giving people alternative reasons to get involved in this festival. You don’t have to be a hardened beer geek to enjoy it.

In the future would you be looking to expand the festival?

I’m not sure expansion is necessarily our aim at this point. We already have more than 100 events this year so we need to be more focused on refining the quality of the festival and growing our audience.

One of the biggest challenges we face is in convincing casual drinkers to think more about what they drink and take notice of the brilliant beer being produced on their doorstep rather than sticking to old habits. Although growing, the market for craft beer is still very small but we believe it has potential to expand far beyond this, much as it has in the USA.

Is there anything to do at the festival for people that aren’t the biggest beer lovers?

Our closing party is a good example of an event that has cross-over appeal. We have teamed up with Band on the Wall, which is one of the city’s most iconic music venues, and the Smithfield Tavern, one of Manchester’s best pubs to put on an event that doesn’t simply focus on beer.

There will be great music from local artists throughout the day at both venues, alongside a range of beer from Manchester’s best breweries. You don’t have to come for the beer but it’d be good if some newcomers enjoyed it as a result of coming for the music.

Image courtesy of The Marble Arch via Twitter, with thanks.

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