Manchester stands proudly at the vanguard of Britain’s good beer revolution.
Manchester Beer Week showcases the cutting-edge creativity of the city’s microbreweries and confirms Manchester’s status as the beer capital of Britain.
The city is teeming with award-winning indie breweries and craft beer bars that have revitalised the city’s pub scene.
Craft beer bars with on-site breweries, such as BrewDog on Deansgate and the Gas Works on First Street, are serving up an ever increasing selection of keg beer direct from tank to tap.
Alex Harmon, manager of the Manchester Gas Works, one of the city’s most popular brew bars, told MM: “People are actually a lot more interested in what they’re drinking now. They want to be educated on it. Which is great for us, with our on-site brewery.
“We want to give the client something different. Something with taste, something that’s going to intrigue you. Something you can taste with your eyes and your mouth.”
Inspired by the good beer revolution in the USA, these boundary-pushing indie brewers have captured the imagination and expanded the palate of beer lovers city-wide.
But where does this unquenchable thirst for keg conditioned craft beer leave the conservative British beer advocacy group, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)?
CAMRA are acknowledged with successfully staging one of the most successful consumer campaigns in British history. Their 46-year crusade to promote ‘real’, cask conditioned ales and preserve traditional British pubs has had a positive impact on pub culture in the UK.
Their success in getting more cask ales into pubs and onto supermarket shelves reawakened Briton’s love affair with real ale and paved the way for the craft beer revolution.
But real ale and craft beer advocates have not always seen eye to eye. CAMRA and craft ale heavyweight BrewDog maintained a famously testy relationship after the latter’s boisterous arrival on the beer scene nearly a decade ago.
In the last few years relations have begun to thaw, thanks in part to events like the Manchester Beer Week which embraces and celebrates good beer of all forms.
According to John Clarke, CAMRA activist and beer expert – real ale and craft beer are two sides of the same coin.
“Real ale and craft beer – there is a big overlap between the two. A lot of real ale is craft beer and a lot of craft beer is real ale.
“The two can quite happily exist side by side and in most cases, they are the same thing. What the craft beer revolution has done is stimulate interest in beer of all forms.”
But some real ale drinkers remain hostile to a youth-led craft beer takeover led by BrewDog, the self-confessed “post-punk apocalyptic mother****** of a craft brewery”.
These brash young upstarts of the beer world are seen by some real ale advocates as hijacking CAMRA’s hard work and progress over the years in raising awareness of good beer and loosening the stranglehold of run-of-the-mill, mass-produced lagers.
The reason that CAMRA were initially reluctant to embrace the trans-Atlantic craft beer craze was due to the way in which craft beer is injected with gas to create artificial carbonation.
This was considered heresy by CAMRA, who impose a strict definition on what constitutes ‘real ale’ and an uncompromising commitment to a how beer should be brewed.
But Manchester Beer Week demonstrates that there is room only for one type of beer in this city – that’s good beer.
Whether it’s real ale or craft beer, dispensed from casks or kegs, this city doesn’t judge on the method, only the quality of its character.
Connor Murphy, organiser of Manchester Beer Week recently told MM: “That’s what Manchester does well. It continuously regenerates and embraces bold new ideas while remaining grounded in long-lasting foundations.
“This translates to the beer scene too – we boast some fabulous historical pubs that 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.”
MM accompanied CAMRA activist and beer expert John Clarke on a real ale tour around some of Manchester’s most notable, historical pubs for Manchester Beer Week.
MM then popped into the Manchester Gas Works for a night cap and a chat with general manager, Alex Harmon, whose craft beer bar and on-site brewery has turned a new generation on to good beer.
We asked both Clarke and Harmon for their take on the thawing in the cold war between real ale and craft beer, and why good beer, however it’s brewed, has Mancunians hopping mad for it.