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What I took from Manchester Brewery Expo

The first (of what I hope will be a frequent event) Manchester Brewery Expo was a celebration of beer that saw several of Manchester's breweries throw open their doors for talks, tasters and general good times. 

I've already presented a photo blog of my day here. 

It's also been written about as a wonderful day out by the Boozy Procrastinator and also by the Leeds Beer Wolf - the latter being whom I hung around with for most of the day, so the order of my day matches that particular post. Because of this, I've chosen not to rewrite what has already been well written, but to share some of the feelings and discoveries I took away from the day. 

I only participated in the Saturday morning of the expo that took in the Piccadilly/Ardwick based breweries Track Brewing Co, Alphabet Brew Co, Privateer Beers, Squawk Brewing Co and Cloudwater Brew Co. 

Beer geeks receive tank tasters like communion

Line up politely, take the sacrament from the host, step politely to one side and take your taste there. Sound familiar. It was amusing to witness an entire group – after needlessly being asked “would anybody like a taste direct from the tank?” – perform this ritual as if it was sacred. It was also rather frustrating as I attempted to take a picture of the pouring, bnot that anybody should be concerning themselves with such things. Hence this blurred picture was the best of several attempts that usually had a body in the way. Keep worshipping at that altar, y’all.

Days Like this Work Best when Everybody is Relaxed

I arrived at my first destination – Privateer Beers – at 10.55a.m and hung patiently by the door as the ever-energetic Matt continued his set-up, but I was of course welcomed in. There was brief concern for the day as he bounced around looking entirely disorganised. “I’ve just been up to Squawk to ask them what the hell is actually happening today.” He then poured me a beer without asking for any tickets or money in return and was just genuinely buoyed by the whole day. It was soon apparent that this wasn’t disorganisation, this was relaxation.

It became the character of the day from brewery to brewery. It soon became obvious that there wasn’t going to be vigorous checking and scanning of reserved Eventbrite tickets – “anybody who wants to hear me speak come this way” -  nor were the talks going to be rehearsed, regimented affairs – “suppose I might as well give you a tank tasting whilst we’re here.” It was all about having a very good time and after a while I couldn’t believe just how little I’d spent with all the free samples or waving away of cash being done. Nor could I quite grasp just how much beer was being put in my glass.

The moment that summed up this approach best came when I decided to use my token at Alphabet Brew Co. on their Barrel Aged Crate Digger at 10%. I obviously asked for a half to ensure my day lasted past teatime. With no hidden smirk, and no extra charge, my pint glass was filled to the top. "That's an odd looking half," I remarked. A smile and a shrug was the response. 

Cask still has its place

Privateer Beers is the only cask exclusive place on the day. It's also, at the grand old age of 3, the oldest brewery I took in. But the beer is selling well, is well received and is, as Matt tells me, the exact sort of beer they want to be making. The story of Privateer isn't based on a journey down Route 66 that led to a beer epiphany - it comes from a love of beer that was born "whilst having 3 or 4 post work pints when I was an engineer." Matt admits their beers might not appeal to – and here he uses a phrase I’ve used often – “people that believe beer was invented two years ago,” yet is selling well and proof that cask dominated breweries serving beers that range between 4-5% can still open in this climate and be successful. It's good to see.  

Certainly for now, the market is not becoming over-crowded or saturated

The main beer fear in the rise and rise of this beverage is of the market saturation point; where there is so much beer that nobody is making money anymore. Not so amongst our Piccadilly brewers, with Track pointing out that all the beer currently in production had been sold weeks in advance and others talking about their “surprising” chance to expand earlier than expected. There were a few forced smiles when a couple of brewers predicted that, were this to become an annual event, by next year the number of participating breweries could be double, but for now it’s good to see that good beer is rising and successful.

Craft could save areas

It’ll be no secret to Manchester folk that the area housing these five breweries is a little desolate. The major appeal to opening up in these rail arches, contrary to belief that it keeps things “craft,” is the low rent/lease charges. It’s generally an area of van hire businesses that are protected by 3 tonnes of barbed wire. 

Before I'd arrived at any breweries, I'd already bumped into a German couple who were off to the Expo who were expressing concern for a woman who was passed out in an arch on Temperance Street. Together we approached her and offered help and assistance but she required neither from us it would seem. "This is an area of lots of drugs and prostitution?" the German couple asked, "and breweries?" That about sums it up. 

However, imagine the area if these five breweries were to open their doors more often. Imagine if Ardwick could become like Bermondsey - revitalised and reborn. I really think their presence could do wonders for the area and that is a great positive I took from the day. 

Any Cloudwater negativity has now been broken 

“I have a mental issue with Cloudwater and I don’t exactly know what it is.” I was honest from the start of the day about how my feelings about Cloudwater have developed since their launch. What I wanted more than anything from the Expo was to remove the mental negative block I have when it comes to them. It’s easy to see why it developed, especially after visiting some of the smaller set-ups first, but I admitted that it was slightly unfounded and unfair. It must just stem from the size of their launch. Heck, even one of the other breweries had a cheeky but friendly dig at them in one of their talks whilst on the subject of delivering beer by hand – “I think Cloudwater deliver their beer by private helicopter.” This added to the fact that I have been slightly underwhelmed by the Spring season of beers that thusfar have had that feeling of ‘it’s-good-but-I’ve-had-many-better-versions-of-the-style’ about them.

In the end I got exactly what I was looking for after tastings at the brewery and a tour by the ever engaging Paul Jones. Cloudwater were the most organised brewery on the day – organised, but not militant. Whilst they were the only brewery to be checking the pre-booked tickets and whose tour had an element of rehearsal about it, this touch of professionalism was welcome and made for a much more engaging session. Also, a proper tank tasting was not only entertaining, it gave a peak into what already looks set to be a much more exciting summer range, with two of the beers already tasting outstanding.

Paul really is a brilliant speaker and I got the chance to talk further with him after the tasting. I was honest about my negative feelings before the day and asked him if they were ever bothered by it. "Of course we are, we take great pride in what we do and it hurts when people criticise us." I actually felt guilty but was quick to point out that all that was gone now. It's a great addition to the Manchester scene. 

Beer people are still good people

Whether you work in the industry, volunteer, write, blog or just drink the stuff, one fact remains clear at the end of every such event: Beer People are Brilliant. Arrive to an event alone and come away with many new friends. Days like this are so enjoyable for that reason. Whilst a lot of beer was consumed, it would have been just as enjoyable had we only had one third to try in each stop. Beer was secondary on a day when it could have been the focus. I hope this is the first of many such events. 


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