Where and what to drink in back Piccadilly and up towards Red Bank
In part one of our series of schleps and scoops along the Manchester beer mile and beyond, Neil Sowerby regaled the early days of the Manchester craft beer scene.
What was originally an attempt to create a Bermondsey-style route didn’t quite turn out that way. Instead, what flourished was a proudly local scene that filled railway arches up and down North Western Street and beyond, producing internationally renowned beer.
Fast forward a decade and the scene continues to thrive. Old favourites remain, new spin-offs have sprouted, taprooms continue to spring up for that fresh-from-the tank-experience and the so-called mile has doubled in size through town and out the other side. Below is a nod to each of the breweries, all in one place, with added drink recommendations, be it on-site or on the shelves of your local bottle shop.
A posthumous taproom entry. In the time it took to finish this article, founder Steve Dunkley announced the closure of the Beer Nouveau taproom, with the premises and kit up for sale. A fountain of knowledge, endless chat and uncensored opinion, Steve’s departure from the mile is a real loss. From a trademarked Peterloo Porter taken from a 120 year old recipe to Satanic Mills, a 6% imperial that one brewer on the mile affectionately describes as “my favourite, but it’ll break your kneecaps.” A truly unique brewer and historian of beer. Here’s hoping for future chances to try Steve’s beers again one day.
TRY: Body Snatcher. Brewed to a Boddingtons recipe from the 1960s, chances are you’ve never tried a bitter like it and you’ll never try one like it again. Notes of caramel, honey and Werther's Originals in a pint that is like a revelation in comparison to standard issue pub bitter.
75 North Western Street, M12 6DY. Taproom open Friday and Saturday 12pm-9pm, Sunday 12pm-8pm
Originally started as a brewing operation under The Macc in Macclesfield, Wander Beyond moved to North Western Street in December 2017. “From there the brewery started out strong and we always specialised in 10% plus beers. That’s just what we do.” Says Tom Bacon, national sales and distribution manager.
“We have our barrel-aging process as well, which we’re really proud of. We think we have the second largest in Manchester behind Cloudwater. 90 different barrels filled with beer at any one point. We’ve got a 16% barley wine coming out that has spent two years in barrels. That’ll be half decent going into Christmas.”
“Going forward you’re going to see continuously more and more silly beers, which is going to be great. We’ll be doing a special release for our birthday which is hopefully going be five very silly beers. We’re also going to be celebrating cask a lot more because that’s something that we all love and devour. It’s also become quite a substantial amount of our sales now.
TRY: Oxpod. “Our 12% mango and passionfruit imperial milkshake IPA. It’s the reason the boxes are so long when I have to fill out a form. It’s alcoholic Rubicon. It’s sweet, it’s thick, it’s got a little bit of bitterness to it and then it’s just mango and passionfruit deliciousness all the way through.”
98 North Western Street, M12 6JL. Taproom open Friday 4pm-8pm, Saturday 12pm-8pm
“We started in 2014. We’re not OG but pretty OG when it comes to Manchester. We brew a lot of hop-forward and fruit-led beers. Mainly sessions but we do specials too. Impy stouts - like Flat White, a 7.4% white breakfast stout - all go down an absolute storm.” Toni Klas, Alphabet sales and events manager, says.
Charlie Don’t Surf, the 4% session, is a signature whilst a recent visit revealed a great Kolsch in the form of the 4.5% Just To Wet The Whistle. Renowned local artist Hammo meanwhile has given the brewery a distinctive aesthetic.
One of the larger taprooms on the route, with a spacious yard covered by a railway arch, Alphabet have recently celebrated their eighth birthday with a dinosaur-themed event. There’s also foodie pop-ups on the horizon. I Knead Pizza have recently been and gone whilst Cornwall-based Mexican streetfood pop-up El Huichol’s UK-wide tour touches down at 2pm on November 12.
TRY: “Juice Springsteen. It’s a tropical IPA, 4%. Pineapple, mango, passionfruit and guava. Easy drinking so you can keep knocking them back.”
99 North Western Street, M12 6JL. Taproom open Saturday 2pm-10pm
Co-founder Will Evans’ involvement in the beer mile dates back to late 2013 when he took over part of the then Privateer Beers unit (now Beer Nouveau) as part of North West distribution for Cave Direct. He moved down the way with Cave before co-founding Manchester Union Lager at Unit 96 on North Western Street.
“We opened in 2019, but there was a lot of work in the background from 2016. At that stage, nobody used decoction mash brewing, the method we use for brewing lager. Now everyone recognises it. For so long in the craft brewing scene lager was an afterthought. I don’t care what brewer you’re talking to, every brewer enjoys a good lager.”
“The beer we have on draught we only sell in Manchester. We’ve got no aspirations to sell that beer outside Greater Manchester. Everyone likes to comment on your business plan and all the rest of it. They said don’t put the name in, otherwise people in Leeds or Liverpool won’t buy it. That’s totally fine for us. It’s that whole thing about locality. Cutting down on air pollution, tending to your local market. Everything we do is about getting our beer into the hands and mouths of Manchester.”
TRY: Manchester Union Lager 4.8%. “It’s our reason for being. There are a lot of people and brewers who would prefer to drink lighter-style lagers, but we chose a Czech-style Pilsner. We call it Central European with a Mancunian swagger. The whole idea is it has a bigger, bolder body from the mash process and then we hop it like you would a hoppy pale or IPA. That’s where the swagger comes in.”
96d North Western Street, M12 6JL. No tap currently; check social media for one-off events. Exhibition, where Manchester Union Lager will be fresh from the tank, opens in November
One of the oldest on the mile, founded in 2013, Squawk is still a Temperance Street local, situated on nearby Tonge Street just up from Beer Nouveau. A small team continue to make "progressive, hop-forward beers with traditional roots". Always partial to collaboration, with recent beers coming via tasty work with the likes of Shiny Brewery, Alphabet and Electric Bear. If the brewery’s TikTok is anything to go by, it all looks extremely fun too.
TRY: Toco Pale 5%. “Full-bodied and juicy - this pale layers up dried mango, candied fruit and dank hoppy goodness. Those flavours ride on top of a balanced malty base with a touch of bitterness in the finish.”
Tonge Street, M12 6LY. No tap currently.
A bit of a cheat this. The actual brewery is five miles to the west in Salford, but their taproom with a full beer range used to sit at the heart of Escape To Freight Island, adjacent to the Beer Mile. Whilst the brewery's beers are still available, the taproom has fled the foodie nest.
TRY: Ego Tripping At The Gates of Hell. A classic Pomona hop monster, packed with Cryo, Mosaic and Citra. Launched in 2019, it’s still going strong. And we mean strong – 10.5%.
Pomona left its Escape to Freight Island tap on 28 October but a pub is in the offing in the former Chaopraya site on Chapel Walks off Cross Street. North Westward Ho will open early to mid 2023.
The big taproom success story, now augmented by a suntrap garden. Dev Parmar has taken over as bar manager from Katie Brown and brewer Will Harris is now heading up Balance (see below), but the remarkable consistency of the beers is still a given plus on Fridays and Saturdays the Rise pop-up pizzas are arguably the city’s best. Events manager Stefan Melbourne is not complacent: “The cost of everything from energy to raw materials is rising dramatically and we know there are difficult times ahead. It is good to have the brewery and bar under one roof, sharing costs. Take Sam, our pizza provider. He doesn’t have to rent a whole kitchen thanks to our set-up.
“Sam (Track founder Dyson) was inspired originally by the beer styles and taprooms he discovered on his travels in the United States. And the sense of community. We are lucky to have a loyal band of customers and the taproom is central. It recently hosted our ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood festival, showcasing many of the best breweries in the North West. Before we built our new home and we lost our tap premises Cloudwater across the road gave us a space for a bar.”
TRY: Sonoma, the cask version. Thronged with Centennial, Citra and Mosaic hops, this sessionable 3.8% pale ale is a signature beer that appeals across the whole spectrum.
Unit 18, Piccadilly Trading Estate, M1 2NP. Taproom open Tuesday-Thursday 2pm-10pm, Friday-Saturday 12pm-10pm, Sunday 12pm-8pm
Stratospherically high in lists of the world’s best craft breweries, Cloudwater has been hamstrung in creating a perfect on-site taproom (ironically they have another on the Bermondsey ‘Mile’). Founder Paul Jones says landlord restrictions mean they can’t offer a full food offering or live music. In the prosaically titled ‘Unit 9’ we’re happy to concentrate on a tap range that could never be described as prosaic. A sign of the straitened times, though is the 4pm-7pm ‘happy hour’ where five pints from the core range can be had for £20.
Paul tells us he is proud of the achievements of his premium beers but argues: “There are changes. Craft beer has reached an opportunity, a necessity to reach out beyond current craft circles.
“At the same time we have to address soaring expenses – wheat three times as expensive, packaging suddenly costing 20 per cent more, you name it. And none of us know how long a recession might last.”
One thing is certain in his mind – taprooms and pubs are not in competition. They all contribute to a healthy beer culture. “Manchester is lucky to have four traditional family-run breweries still around. It must be unique. The real enemies of choice are the pubcos.”
TRY: Super Happy. Old habits die hard. But instead of splashing out on, say, a 75cl sharing bottle of ‘Embracing Everybody’ Wild Ale, go for one of the new core range. For £4.25 a 440ml can of 5.3% ‘juicy pale ale’.
Unit 9, Piccadilly Trading Estate, M1 2NP. Taproom open Tuesday-Wednesday 3pm-10pm, Thursday-Saturday 12pm-10pm, Sunday 12pm-7pm
Brewing out of its Angel Meadows spot for over 10 years now, Blackjack is a Manchester brewing name synonymous with variety. It’s no surprise, given taps at market bars in Altrincham, Mackie Mayor, Macclesfield Picturedrome, The Smithfield Tavern and the Nag’s Head in Haughton all need stocking up. That variety takes you through pales, hazy sessions, stout and seasonal porters. Although as Blackjack themselves put it, “we are all suckers for cask beers at heart.”
Try: Manchester Stout: Nitro 4.5%. Co-founder James Darcey says “This beer snuck its way into everyone's hearts and is a bit different than our usual offerings. It's a smooth-flow stout, and we think it's a bit of a giant killer. All our venues have Manchester Stout Nitro on tap all the time. We nitrogenate (add the nitrogen) directly in our tanks and have a secret ratio of dissolved Co2/N which gives a smooth pour but with enough bite for you to pick up on the 8 malts in the base of our core beer.”
Arch 36, Irk Street, M4 4RN. Brewtap temporarily closed. Their other outlets, the Smithfield Tavern and, next door in the Mackie Mayor, Jack in the Box, are serving as normal.
The one that is about to get away, so include it in your crawl while you can. Mark Welsby’s determinedly small scale brewery (production just 1,000 hectolitres a year) is upping sticks to Stockport by the end of the year, meaning the recent ‘The Beer Up Here’ mini-festival with nearby Blackjack and GRUB may be the last. Taproom ambitions are key to the move. The current outdoor area is shared with other businesses. Mark tells us: “We opened in 2014. Pioneers. But the old industrial building we are renovating in Stockport will give us much more space.
“At the new taproom there we’ll offer a food menu. The scene is not just about craft beer any more. Natural wine, proper cider, small plates all have their place at the table. We’ll have space for barrel ageing, too. More control over our destiny. If it doesn’t work, then it’s all down to us.”
TRY: Yuzu Sour. Based on a classic Berliner Weisse but substituting pure Japanese citrus for the usual sugar syrups, this is a real thirst quencher.
Unit 4, Millgate, Dantzic Street, M4 4JW. Taproom open Saturday 2pm-7pm
The redoubtable Lucy Clarke will be at the helm of Sureshot’s upcoming taproom, twice the size of the brewery itself next door at No.5 (the site originally occupied by Track). It will showcase the exceptional output from this new brewery launched by James Campbell, creator of signature beers for both Marble and Cloudwater.
“The interaction a tap room brings is rewarding all round,” says Lucy, whose CV includes Cloudwater, Siren and bottle shop Epicurean. Expect the tap to open before Christmas. Meanwhile, you can taste the beers at their Sureshot Saloon pop-up at Port Street Beer House, Fridays 5pm-12am and Saturdays 4pm-12m.
TRY: Mexican Wolverine. James’ IPAs and DIPAs are the stuff of legend, but this Mexican wrestling inspired collab with Lost & Grounded shows he can pop out a mean lager, too.
4 Sheffield St, M1 2ND. Taproom will open Tuesday to Sunday.
James Horrocks and Will Harris (ex-Squawk and Track respectively) are the brewers behind this barrel-fermented mixed culture project. They currently house the 30 barrels essential to the process inside Manchester Brewing Co at 66 North Western Street (no taproom currently), but are about to rent their own premises as they step up production of their fruity, sour beers.
“It has been a wild ride and with help for businesses like ours still very vague a step in the dark, but the reception for our beers has been hugely encouraging,” says James. “Energy costs are a huge source of worry, but we are lucky that creating our style of beer requires less electricity since we don’t need electricity for a cooling store."
"With expansion will come a taproom in the spring,” says James. “Our own brewing has always been inspired by drinking at the source. It’s magical in a brewery like Cantillon (shrine to lambic styles near Brussels) to sampling inside a barrel store.”
TRY: Saison de la Maison Blend 2. Their fourth (75cl bottle) release, an update on their first in late spring – this one a blend from two barrels filled in 2021 and double dry-hopped with UK Cascade hops. “Zippy, with pineapple funk and clean, pithy sharpness,” says Will.
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