The origins of a craft beer hub
The Piccadilly Beer Mile never quite took off as the ultimate Manchester supping crawl, yet suddenly the thirst for it is reawakening. As part of a three-part series, Mile veteran Neil Sowerby and rookie hopster Davey Brett went on a quenching quest to learn more about Manchester's original craft beer hub.
In part one, Neil Sowerby traces the mile back to its roots.
Railway arch outposts
There’s a Facebook picture from several years ago of fresh-faced James Horrocks and Will Harris larking around at Chorlton Brewing Co. The railway arch at 69 North Western Street was an outpost on Manchester’s new beer frontier. Recently qualified, they were learning the ropes from Chorlton’s founder Mike Marcus. His speciality, sour beer, is the obvious inspiration for their own "mixed fermentation" project.
Balance Brewing and Blending is currently renting space at Manchester Brewing Co three arches down, but they are set to open independently not too far away. And they are not alone as "craft beer" finds a second wind against the odds in these challenging times. Folk, it seems, can’t resist the lure of tasting beers at the place they were created. In the convivial company of the creators.
It’s one of several anomalies in the short reign of the so-called "Piccadilly Beer Mile" that Chorlton was based where it was. Mike had moved up from London to settle in that cool ‘hood but couldn’t find an affordable base to brew there. Hence he headed for a dodgy area already being colonised by pioneer hopheads.
The Marcus direction lay away from American-influenced IPAs (he famously denied himself the use of US hops when Trump gained power) towards Germanic traditions and Belgian-style wild fermentation, creating cult, collectable sharing bottles such as Dark Matter.
For the annual release of that Imperial Black Gose he threw open the doors of his working brewery to create a taproom. Not a week-in, week-out occurrence. Sporadic really. This is anomaly number two since Mike is credited with being prime mover of our own answer to London’s "Bermondsey Beer Mile". One of the essential taproom stop-off points on that crawl is the legendary Kernel Brewing, where Mike had worked.
These days their archway base is open to the public four days a week and there are a further 20 craft beer outlets within walking distance.
The Piccadilly Beer Mile, in contrast, remains an altogether more fragmentary entity. The initial publicity back in 2015 claimed:
“Track Brewing Company, Alphabet Brewing Company, Chorlton Brewing Company and Squawk Brewing Company will be serving brewery-fresh beers to punters, with their creators on hand to chat about the brewing process. Distributor Cave Direct will showcase a range of brews from London and the South East.”
Leader of the craft beer pack Cloudwater had asked not to be involved.
Best intentions and realities on the ground
All very well but for various logistical reasons you never got a full set of taps open and the blurb didn’t warn you that halfway along the parallel streets, North Western and Temperance (sic), that made up the bulk of the Mile, your progress was halted by several lanes of ring road severing the route. Cue jolly beer crawlers negotiating crash barriers and the hurtling HGVs to get to the promised land of Squawk, Chorlton or later Beer Nouveau.
Wiser, I would sidle along to the crossing further up. But how often did I make that trek? The Manchester craft beer world had moved on. Mike Marcus is long gone, having mothballed Chorlton as the pandemic arrived. The last attempt at co-ordinating the local scene was Manchester Beer Week (2017 and 2018); whilst the laudable Indy Man Beer Con is very much a national event.
Threats to indie brewers this winter have been well documented. Not just energy but the cost of everything else is going through the roof – cardboard, labels, bottles, cans, kegs, CO2, malt, with hop shortages mooted.
Yet for all this, seven years on from its first bright new pours, a fresh incarnation of the Piccadilly Beer Mile is springing up, albeit against a backdrop of cost of living and energy crises. There’s a certain bravado about "refreshed" operations and new brewery taprooms along the original "Mile", including Sheffield Street, the close-by Piccadilly Trading Estate and the Angel Meadow outliers. It’s all quite exciting.
Look out for part two of our deep dive into Manchester's beer mile coming soon.
Follow Neil on Twitter @antonegomanc
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