What to expect from the inaugural Manchester Craft Beer Festival - we talk to co-founder Greg Wells

We Are Beer, the people behind Manchester Craft Beer Festival, were nervous about bringing it to Manchester. 

If you don’t believe us, ask them. 

Chatting to us earlier this month, co-founder Greg Wells admitted that Manchester's world-beating craft beer scene and established calendar of craft beer festivals was a bit intimidating from afar. After the success of We Are Beer events in London, Bristol and Birmingham however, the festival - that launched in 2013 - is braving its Manchester debut.

You're into white wine? I can find you a beer you’ll like. You're into cocktails? I can find you a beer you’ll like.

Taking place at Mayfield Depot (of Escape to Freight Island and Warehouse Project fame) from 23 - 24 July, Manchester Craft Beer Festival is set to be a big one. Beer - sadly minus a lot of the people who’ve made it due to covid restrictions - will be flying in from all over the UK, the United States and Europe for the two-day celebration of all things craft. European breweries like Lervig will be pouring alongside big British names such as Deya and Verdant as well as a New York showcase. Local craft beer will also be prominent with Track, Pomona Island, Marble and others confirmed for the taps.

Ahead of the festival, we caught up with festival co-founder Greg Wells to talk beer recommendations, up-and-coming breweries and why everyone wants to collaborate with a certain San Sebastian brewery.

One Of The Free Tasting Glasses From Manchester Craft Beer Festival Being Held At Mayfield Depot In Manchester
When all of the beer fog has worn off the following day, a free Manchester Craft Beer Festival glass will remind drinkers where they were

How did the We Are Beer city-based craft beer festivals come about?

GW: "We started with the idea that we could do beer festivals a bit differently. We wanted people to explore the different tastes and flavours within beer. So the big thing that we changed was rather than buying beer as you go around and it being solely about pints, a single ticket [gets you] an unlimited amount. You can try what you want and have a small taster of 100ml - making it the equivalent of a taster menu.

"The other thing we wanted to do, alongside celebrating all these cool breweries, was to make the experience great which means great food and great music too."

What brought your Craft Beer Festival to Manchester?

GW: "Dan, my business partner, is from Manchester. We come here a lot for the beer. We nearly looked at opening a bar once in the Northern Quarter and then this venue [Mayfield Depot] popped up. We came and looked at the main room where they do the Warehouse Project and we were just like, fuck me, we’ve got to do it here.

"Our initial worry was: can we sell enough tickets to even fill that space? But we've done really well on that front. Manchester has got some great beer festivals already like Indy Man Con and Cloudwater. But I think we can bring something a bit different, a bit more of a night out experience. A bit of a laugh and focus bit more on the music and food, alongside some really good beer."

Freight Island Burger California Burger Vendors Patty Queen Will Be At Manchester Craft Beer Festival To Serve Up Burgers Burgers Burgers
Freight Island favourite Patty Queen will join the likes of Anglothai, Belzan pasta kitchen and Higher Ground x Things Palace on the food roster

With that in mind, what can we expect on the food front?

GW: "We're so excited about the food that we’ve got at this festival: Madre, Belzan, Higher Ground. A friend is going to come up from London called Anglothai who does amazing Thai food and they’re collaborating with Madre. People are doing really cool stuff and that's why we connected so well with everyone at Freight Island and went with the Kantina angle. They’re all about connecting the dots between great drink, great music and great food.

"If you’re passionate about quality, creativity and what you can do - those lines blur very quickly. People in music get into food and drink because they're bored of being up at 4am and people in food and drink often aspire to be in music. They’re the bedroom DJs and often very good ones.

"You see it everywhere. James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem is one of my favourite musicians. He’s got a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York [The Four Horsemen]. They do an exchange with a restaurant in London called Braun on Columbia Road. Ed who runs Braun DJs with Gilles Petersen. There are all these little connections around beer, wine and food."

What are some of your favourite breweries from the line-up?

GW: "I love Mikkeller. I think they’re great at what they do. We’ve got two excellent Dutch breweries we haven’t had in a while called Brouwerji Frontaal and Brouwerji Kees. We’ve got Basqueland coming over from San Sebastian. Everyone tries to collaborate with those guys because when you do you get taken out to the best lunches because they supply beer to the best restaurants in San Sebastian. Kevin Patricio, one of the guys that runs it, is an amazing chef. He’s cooked in three-star kitchens so he’s really into his food. His partner used to sell Txakoli and natural wines into restaurants and they noticed this space in the market for beer. Track Brewing Co are incredible too."

Blow Wind Blow Is A Limited Edition Collaboration Beer Pale Ale Between Manchester Brewery Track Brewing Co And The Manchester Craft Beer Festival
Blow Wind Blow by Track Brewing Co is a limited edition Pale Ale made for Manchester Craft Beer Festival and inspired by trains

Tell us about the Raise The Bar competition.

GW: "When we started the Craft Beer Festival there were only 30 craft breweries in London - there's about 150 now. What we realised as the scene exploded was that we only had so much space. So we ran a new national competition called Raise The Bar. We ask people to send cans of three or four beers. Then, rather than it being a public vote, we get a few renowned brewers to come together and we all spend the day tasting and judging and then we pick from there.

"We've had some great winners over the years and they go on tour with our festivals. Burnt Mill (Suffolk), BOXCAR Brewery (London), Dig (Birmingham). This year we've got Beak Brewery (Brighton) and Alpha Delta (Newcastle) who do a great funky sour beer. Sometimes really good breweries who don't necessarily catch fire online bring some surprises. It's really nice to find those breweries."

What can people, who aren’t mad about beer, expect at the festival?

GW: "When we first started the festival it was basically just beer geeks. But now craft beer is a mainstream thing. How often do you go into a bar or a pub and the beer is just bad? Thus, we make sure we have a bit of everything. Not even the beer drinkers want to drink beer the whole time. We’ve got spirits, cider, you can have a glass of wine or gin & tonic. We want to make sure that everyone can come and I always find a beer that they like. You're into white wine? I can find you a beer you’ll like. You're into cocktails? I can find you a beer you’ll like. But we make sure there’s something for everyone away from the beer."

Greg's three beer picks to try at Manchester Craft Beer Festival

Track Brewing Co - Blow Wind Blow Pale Ale (5.0% ABV)

A collaborative beer for the festival, the name references, among other things, Track’s love of railways, the festival’s Mayfield Depot location and a track by blues singer Muddy Waters who once played a train station in Whalley Range during the 60s. Strata hops and lots of orange zest and lemon drizzle undertones.

Braybrooke Beer Co - Keller Lager (4.8% ABV)

Greg says: “One of my favourite breweries at the moment is a lager brewery from near Leicester called Braybrooke. Members of their team have a restaurant in London called 10 Greek Street. They're wine guys and they were like, do you know what? Nobody is making the crispiest, most delicious bottled lager for restaurant tables. Lager is harder to brew, you’ve got to give it longer, there's no place to hide. I think theirs is really delicious.”

Pastore Brewing - Blood Orange Waterbeach Weisse Sour (3.8%)

“A Cambridge brewery from our Raise The Bar competition. They make a Berliner weisse-style sour beer that’s a bit salty, a bit sour, but then they put fruit in it and they do a blood orange one. It's only like 3.5 percent, but on a hot summer's day, oh my god, it's just so drinkable.”

Manchester Craft Beer Festival takes place at Mayfield Depot 23-24 July. Tickets for the festival as well as full line-up information are available here.

Follow Davey Brett on Twitter @dbretteats

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