Neil Sowerby raises a glass to celebrations of our great indie brewing culture

INDY Man Beer Con is not going to happen this year after setting the benchmark for craft beer festivals across a decade and the jury’s out on whether it will ever return. 

No point in drowning your sorrows indiscriminately, though. As a consolation Manchester and its regional fringes are host to a whole pallet of fascinating hop-led events this spring and summer. 

Everything from a large touring show (Craft Beer Festival) to a unique beer heritage exploration attracting experts from across the globe (Historic Brew Con). On offer between there’s a specialist smoked beer event, a spectacular farm setting, an urban growers’ take in a park, a craft pioneer toasting a decade of innovation, a four taproom collaboration between Manchester’s most cutting edge brewers and, not least, one of the stalwart CAMRA celebrations of both beer and cider…

Beer Sureshot
Sureshot Taproom is one of a quartet hosting Block Party Confidentials

Block Party: Saturday 11 May 

With the groundbreaking Piccadilly Beer Mile now a shadow of its former self the brewing action has shifted to the other side of the tracks – to Sheffield Street, home to mixed fermentation specialists Balance Brewing & Blending and Sureshot (whose founder James Campbell recently won the Outstanding Achievement prize at Manchester Food and Drink Awards) and a five minute walk away Track and Cloudwater on the Piccadilly Trading Estate. The quartet joined forces last July to create Block Party across their respective taprooms.

That multi-party was a roaring success, but the sequel is a real step-up. Each taproom invites a guest brewery and an independent food vendor, along with live DJs. So its Cloudwater x Overtone, Balance x Burning Sky, Track x The Kernel, Sureshot x Elusive. A bonus participation comes from Pellicle, the online drinks magazine celebrating its fifth anniversary. Its co-founder Matthew Curtis is the author of Manchester’s Best Beer Pubs and Bars and he’s commissioned birthday beers from Bristol’s Wiper & True and pizza specials from Track regulars Slice Culture. For the full list of Pellicle contributions on the day, including tutored tastings, visit this link

Sheffield Street M1 2ND and Piccadilly Trading Estate M1 2NP. Free to enter. 12pm-late.

Beer Runaway
The Runaway team prepare to host the 10th birthday bash in their new base Runaway

Runaway’s 10th Birthday Fest: Thursday 31 May - Sunday 2 June 

I remember interviewing Runaway Brewery founder Mark Welsby in his newly acquired arches along Dantzic Street a decade ago. It took a further three years for this impressive  pioneer to open a mezzanine taproom there and a year ago he relocated it and the brewery to Stockport. A short stagger from the new Bus Interchange, this airy space with its courtyard garden will host a weekend of 10th birthday events, beginning with a preview of new beers brewed for the occasion, followed by a two-day beer festival with 30 taps showcasing Runaway’s greatest hits (my tip the American Brown Ale) and special collabs, alongside world beers from Manchester’s Café Beermoth. There will also be pizza specials from taproom fixture Honest Crust, leading an international food offering, and brewery tours.

The closing party will see the brewery taproom open for the first time on a Sunday from 1pm-6pm with a more relaxed, low key feel. Think board games, papers, dub, reggae, and jazz – oh and birthday cake. of course.

The Runaway Brewery Taproom (Behind the Pineapple), 9-11 Astley Street, Stockport, SK4 1AW. Free to enter. Check website for times. 

Beer Stockport
The Guildhall is once again hosting the rather jolly Stockport Festival John Clarke (CAMRA)

Stockport Beer and Cider Festival: Thursday 20 June - Sunday 23 June

In contrast, this CAMRA-run event has been part of the Stockport beer scene, in one form or another, since 1987. Last year it returned triumphantly to the Guildhall and this allows it more space to accommodate three beer bars serving more than 200 beers, ciders and perries. The Bar Nouveau will showcase winners the festivals’s seventh annual home brew competition. There’s even a separate performance space for live music and an outdoor area. A first for SB&CF, there’s also small bar supported by Runaway (them again) serving real beer dispensed from Key Keg.

Stockport Masonic Guildhall, 169-171 Wellington Rd S, Stockport SK1 3UA. Admission £4 each session (£2 for CAMRA members) For full session times visit the website

Beer Platt Fields
Beer (and some amazing food) al fresco at Platt Fields Confidentials

Beers In The Garden: Friday 21 June - Sunday 23 June 

‘Rus in Urbe’ – Platt Fields Market Garden at the peak of the growing season is a bucolic setting for this family-friendly festival celebrating great beer, cider and wine with some of the finest food in the North West. Track have handpicked beers from the likes of Beak, Verdant, Deya, Newbarn and their Piccadilly Trading Estate neighbours Cloudwater. The food line is several notches up on most festivals. Green Michelin-starred Where The Light Gets In will be serving food cooked on a fire, Honest Crust slinging pizzas, plus small plates from MUD Kitchen and Levenshulme legends Isca. 

There will be live DJ sets across all three days, solstice and full moon celebrations and family activities for all ages on the Saturday and Sunday daytime slots plus craft and dance activities. All ticket proceeds go to the social enterprise MUD (Manchester Urban Diggers) CIC and community based Platt Fields Market Garden.

Platt Fields Market Garden, Platt Fields Park, Fallowfield, M14 6LT, UK. Tickets £10-£15 a session. Fri 5pm-9pm, Sat 12pm-4pm, 5pm-9pm, Sun 12pm-6pm.

Beer Craft Chouffe
The Belgian brand Chouffe unleashed the inner gnome in last year's Craft punters Confidentials

Manchester Craft Beer Festival: Friday 5 July and Saturday 6 July

The Mayfield Depot plays host to this returning festival on a mega scale, offering 500 beers from over 65 brewers, some from America, across five sessions. Up to 8,000 punters are expected to splash out from £45 to £65 a session (including booking fee), but that sum includes all drinks. You’ll have to spend further cash for the food on offer; still it’s an impressive line-up – Bone Daddies, Bundobust, Voodoo Ray’s. It’s not my idea of a date night, more a thirsty stampede.

Depot Mayfield, 11 Baring St, Manchester M1 2PY. Buy your tickets here

Beer Historic
Brewer/archaeologist Johnny Horn is one of the historic line-up at Fairfield Social Historic Brew Con

Historic Brewing Conference: Monday 5 August and Tuesday 6 August

Now this is something new, possibly unique, a two day exploration of our brewing heritage with presentations from beer historians from America, Europe and nearer home alongside best-selling drinks writers Pete Brown and Jonny Garrett. The venue is the new incarnation of Fairfield Social Club, appropriately in one of the city’s most historic districts, between the Rive Irk and Angel Meadow. 

Highlights? So  much on offer. I’m looking forward to Beer and Brewing in Pre-historic Britain from Johnny Horn, co-founder of Scottish sour specialists Vault City, currently brewing at his new Holy Goat project in Dundee. His previous academic speciality was the archaeology of Iron Age Britain. If all this sounds a mite lecture room, fear not. This is a beer-led event. So, much fun to be had. Alongside the papers there will be ample windows for socialising and networking. A special conference bar will be well stocked with recreations of historic and heritage beer styles. Expect some collaborations with local breweries (to be announced).

Fairfield Social Club, Irk St, Manchester M4 4JT. Tickets are priced at £70, giving access to both days, Monday, August 5 and Tuesday, August 6. Quite a bargain. Buy them here

Beer Rivington
An idyllic spot with beers to match at Rivington's Farm Trip Confidentials

Farm Trip at Rivington Brewery: Thursday 29 August - Saturday 31 August

My last two recommendations are each brewing up a storm, just across the GM border in Lancashire and Derbyshire respectively. Rivington’s festival is appropriately named. Hilltop farmland in the same family’s hands for ten generations offers views across to Winter Hill and the Pike. The line-up is equally spectacular with over 40 breweries from across the globe, pouring across 40-50 lines, plus natty wine, gin and cocktail bars, local street food vendors and live music across three days. Making their debut this year Celestial Beerworks from Texas, Dolphin mixed culture beers from Reading and from Kent Low Key Barrel Project, who specialise in barrel-aged stouts. For all the choice on offer it would be sacrilege not to order Rivington’s signature beer, Never Known Fog Like It, a 5.2% New England pale ale that’s worth the trip alone.

Rivington Brewing Co, Home Farm, Horrobin Lane, Adlington, Chorley PR6 9HE.  Thursday tickets are £13; £20 for the longer Fri/Sat sessions.Early booking recommended. There are also ticket packages for motor homes.

Beer Torrside
Smokefest brings a touch of psychedelia to Torrside's industrial taproom Confidentials

Smokefest at Torrside: Saturday 21 September and Sunday 22 September

I made my debut last year at this annual celebration of smoked beers at one of the UK’s quirkiest and best breweries. Would it prove niche and restrictive? Not a bit of it. The range was fascinating. This time expect 14 beers on keg, 4-5 casks on handpull, maybe a couple more on gravity plus a few guest bottles/cans, from various breweries. There’ll be smoked toppings from Epic Pizza. There's also a choice of smoked snacks – cheeses, meats, nuts – and a smoked gun to add the necessary to any snacks you might bring along. Don’t neglect Torrside’s own limited edition beer specialities – perfect sharing bottles.

The Wharf Warehouse, Hibbert St, New Mills, High Peak SK22 3JJ. Tickets for either all-day session, 12pm-8pm, are on sale from Wednesday, May 1. The £15 fee covers entry, this year's limited edition Smokefest glass, and your first beer (in measure appropriate to the strength).

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