IT’S ironic that the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival came into being after the CAMRA National Winter Ales Festival was snatched from the city, funneled off to Derby and then Norwich. How distant that final trek up Oldham Road to the Sheridan Suite in search of strong ales seems. Beer is now so much BIGGER!
Its more regional-specific replacement, finding a spectacular home at Manchester Central (30 per cent extra floor space this year, strangely empty above but in three days’ time it will be heaving), has become a showcase of the resurgent British beer scene, CAMRA showing its muscle against the keggy craft beer boys trying to steal its thunder.
It’s definite proof that the champions of of ‘living’ cask ale still count. Definitely, with over 170,000 members. Cask zealots apart, they have even compromised with the keykeg fraternity. At the 2016 annual conference delegates voted to sanction the the practice of serving ‘conditioned’ ale from ‘key-kegs' and to recognise cider with whole fruit and spices as ‘real' (interesting to see how many of these pop up at what is jointly billed as a Cider Festival).
That’s why you’ll find an enhanced ‘Real Ale in a Key-Keg’ bar in a corner of the vast hall, dispensing slightly fizzier ale from newcomers Stubborn Mule (above) of Altrincham and Fiveclouds of Macclesfield.
Mind, at this vast event, the biggest in the North, there are tipples for everYone. At the last count 50 different tipples from over 100 brewers and cider/perry makers to try over the three days (January 19-21).
Best to check put the festival specials and brewery collaborations, which always inclien towards the wild and wonderful. The likes of Torrside’s festival special, Oatmeal Licorice Mild or the 11.5% caramel fudge stout from Dutch brewers Kees!, just one fascinating malty migrant at the Brexit-bashing Bière Sans Frontières bar.
Nearer home, definitely take a walk on the Wildside. That’s the name of a new project by Brightside of Radcliffe, being launched at the Festival. 18 months in gestation, it allows them to tinker with more experimental small batch brews quite different from strong Brightside brands such as Amarillo and Manchester Skyline. Look out then for a Red Chilli Lager and a Ginger and Orange Ale on cask.
ToM is a big fan of Blackjack, the maverick brewers of Irk Street, who just go from strength to strength. They have collaborated with Welsh community brewers Cwr Ial to produce an eagerly awaited festival special ale. They have also taken part in perhaps the most fascinating experiment commissioned by the Festival.
Sue Hayward (above), head brewer of Waen in South Wales has taken her award-winning Pamplemousse golden ale ‘on the road’, seeing how its grapefruit flavours handle being brewed at four separate breweries – nearby Hopcraft in the Rhondda Valley, Stroud Brewery in Gloucestershire, Loch Lomond and finally at Blackjack. Sue’s there on Friday, June 20 at 5.30pm, to talk punters through the four different casks she ‘gypsy brewed’. Will they vary greatly?
Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, Manchester Central, M2 3GX. January 19-21. The new quick access ticketing includes pre-paying for your glass hire (£3) with your ticket so once you are scanned in, you can get straight to the bars. Your glass can then be kept as a souvenir or returned for a refund of your £3 hire fee.Buy advance tickets here. £7 for Thursday (12pm-7pm), £10 for Friday (12pm-10.30pm) and £10 for Saturdaty (12pm-7pm), all plus booking fee. CAMRA members will receive £4 of complimentary beer tokens on entry on production of membership card.If you can't make there Festival or if it whets your thrust for the rest of the year check out our Taste Top 25 Pubs.