Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, the city's biggest biggest Campaign for Real Ale bash of the year finishing on Saturday, January 27. We'd suggest you get down there well before close of play, judging by the thirst already on display when we popped in for the preview night.
It’s the Festival’s fifth year and it has grown exponentially (try saying that after a few ales) to accommodate its spectacular Manchester Central setting.
The festival offers a massive choice of over 650 beers from around the world (plus 103 ciders and perries). The range of modern keg beers from both the UK and overseas will be the largest ever, but as ever – at an event organised by CAMRA’s nine Greater Manchester branches – the focus is on cask-conditioned beers with almost 400 to choose from.
Three huge cask bars occupy the width of the former rail station, offering a massive range of strengths and styles. Established brewers such as Marble Beers, Magic Rock, Salopian and Thornbridge will be pouring next to newcomers including Manchester’s own Pomona Island and Wander Beyond and Runcorn’s Chapter Brewing.
The beer selection runs from session supping ales like Track’s 3% 'Equanot' up to heftier brews such as the 10.6% 'Belgian Quad in Bourbon' from Leeds’ Legitimate Industries (headed up by former Marble head brewer Matt Howgate).
Another beer to be sipped rather than supped is also likely to be one of the most popular – a return to the cask beer format for Cloudwater who will be offering up 'Wizard King', a 12% Belgian Imperial Stout brewed in collaboration with Manchester’s Port Street Beer House, which is celebrating its seventh anniversary in wizard style (below).
Twelve bespoke brewery bars are offering visitors a choice of cask and keg beers often served by the brewers themselves – debutants Thirst Class Ales, Mallinsons and Bridgehouse being joined by festival favourites such as Hawkshead, Brightside, Blackjack and Tiny Rebel.
New to the festival this year is The Hundred Club, a bar dedicated to brewers who have stood the ultimate test – of time. All the brewers on the bar can boast over 100 years of brewing providence. Harvey’s of Lewes in Sussex leads the way with a mere 228 years behind them while Greater Manchester's four family brewers Hydes, Joseph Holt, JW Lees and Robinsons have racked up almost seven centuries between them. But that’s not to say they are resting on their laurels – JW Lees will launch their new permanent 'Stout' at the festival.
Meanwhile the Little Ireland Bar nods to a historic area of Manchester close to the festival site while showcasing beers from the new breed of brewers from the big Ireland across the sea. Beers curated from North and South of the border include cask, key-keg and keg examples.
So what’s on offer to soak up the ale?
The food offering has always been more cutting edge at keggier rival festival, IndyManBeerCon, but this year the CAMRA folk have embraced street food more wholeheartedly.
Returning are favourites Viva La Toastie, while popular Manchester treats from Beehive Foods will make a first appearance. Old Granary Pierogi promise Polish delights including a vegetarian menu, while Wagyu Lookin' At? will bring some premium beef – Japanese Kobi all the way from Yorkshire.
Another trader from over the hill, Pickled Porker Smokehouse will feature their Yorkshire Tapas grazing boards and Howdah Foods moreish home-made Indian snacks, while the Steep Soda Company will provide refreshing options for any designated drivers.
Manchester Beer and Cider Festival runs from Thursday, January 25 to Saturday, January 27 at Manchester Central, Windmill St, Manchester M2 3GX. Tickets for entry and special tasting events are on sale at the festival's website.