I still remember the moment I was stood in Beermoth beer shop (in the centre of Manchester) and picked up bottles of Pale Ale and Dubbel from a brewery I'd not previously seen. Those spiral tickets around the bottle were eye-catching to me. “They are a new brewery from Stockport,” I was told and I had no reason to believe otherwise.
But further inspection after the beers were drunk revealed a Waterloo Court address on the label – an address all too familiar to me. It isn't in Stockport at all. It's an address in the famous Manchester suburban town of Stalybridge. Not only is Stalybridge the town I was born and raised in. Not only is it a town home to my much loved favourite pub that has given me so much. But it is home to the railway arches come industrial units of Waterloo Court where I was once given a stable job after months of unemployed and self-employed torture and uncertainty. That business moved on from the four railway arches that it once occupied but one - Unit 16 to be exact - would go on to become the home of Stalybridge's first brewery for 100 years; Ticketybrew.
To say that the story gave me a personal affection and slight bias to Ticketybrew would be an understatement. Luckily I really enjoyed those early releases of Pale Ale and Dubbel. The Westmalle yeast used gave such a distinctive characteristic and style that every-other-new-brewery seemed to lack. I wanted them to be good.
They are too. The Dubbel and Tripel are exceptional versions of their style. The bottled versions of Jasmine Green Tea and Peach Iced Tea are not only great stand-alone beers but also pair great with food. Their latest versions of Stout and East India Porter are tremendous. Oh, and not every beer uses Belgian yeast contrary to belief.
They may be in a railway arch but they are proud to be housed away from the overcrowded Piccadilly Beer Mile. They brewed a Best Bitter to try and appeal to the more traditional drinkers of Stalybridge. They've gone above and beyond at times to help local pubs with cellaring and the like to try cask beer. They are not a brewery business focused solely on a certain modern beer market.
Yet there is an underwhelming opinion with Ticketybrew amongst beer drinkers - explained well in this post on OhGoodAle. It says much of a brewery that can be brilliant but also disappointing in corresponding measure.
The brewery was given birth by husband and wife team Duncan and Keri. I know Duncan fairly well by now but have never met Keri. I have, however, through means of Stalybridge Buffet Bar especially grown to know other members of the growing team, past and present. Paul is a very knowledgeable brewer who has left to continue his career at Marble. Andy is a former Doc Martens model who I admire for his love of traditional pubs and people but also of all styles of beer. Lee, formerly of Manchester's Knott Bar, is the latest brewery protegé with a roster of exciting and tasty homebrew (I've tasted his Lilt Saison and it was delicious) who should have an exciting career on his hands. There is an enthusiastic young team developing here.
So when chieftain on the shield Jim Cullen (Beers Manchester) asked me whether I would be interested in helping brew a beer for Independent Salford Beer Festival at Ticketybrew I immediately put in my holiday request.
It wouldn't be the first time I have brewed a beer at Ticketybrew. For Manchester Beer Week we recreated a beer by Stalybridge's last brewery - Heginbotham's Brewery - with an Invalid Stout. It was my initial idea that I was glad to help see come to fruition. It was eventually a collaboration with Stalybridge Buffet Bar. With no original recipe to go from we went for authenticity that was nicely approved by Ron Pattinson himself on its release night. I still promise to write more about my research findings about the beer and its brewery in future.
For Salford Beer Festival though the brewday was handed to our Torino-supporting Buffet Bar regular Andy Evans who was keen to brew his idea for a Kiwi Saison. It all happened on the 6th of October. Due to personal reasons Jim couldn’t make the day - which I know he will be disappointed by as he is very fond of Ticketybrew - so it was up to me to fly the flag for Salford. This involved one key ingredient.
Kiwis. 50kg of them.
Now Kiwis aren't "as mashable as raspberries" as Andy would lament later in the day with paddle mixer in hand. No. They have hairy thick skins and a tough pulped middle that stubbornly don't adhere themselves to the will of brewers. Whilst a mash tun of nearly pure lager malt sparged, myself and Andy fought to liquefy kiwis as best we could. We pummelled through five bucket loads to create as much of a beautiful coloured puree as we could.
To accompany this came Dana and Waimea hops. I confess to being unfamiliar with Dana directly apart from its use in what predominantly seems to be lagers. I had no idea of Dana's fragrance. It is easily one of the most delicious smelling hops to crush between your hands I've come across. Surely underused.
It was a smooth running brewday up to that point, with plenty of time for me to volunteer as a work experience kid cleaning bottles out for the Ticketybrew team. I was coincidentally lucky enough to bear witness to the next stage in this brewery's story that was unfolding that very day.
You see, Ticketybrew are well aware that they had a consistency issue and they've been determined to address it. They’ve had exterior examiners come in and swab-and-test all equipment and areas. The brewery itself has been stripped back, removing anything that could hold possible infection; including the old brewery banner. And with the brew kit, area and its beer declared consistently infection free, the arrival of a new stainless steel kit, half of which was arriving on whilst I was there, completes this period of transition.
I have been as critical as any about the consistency in Ticketybrew's cask beer. But now I would implore any who may believe they don't like Ticketybrew to give them another go.
That should all begin at Salford Beer Festival with a Kiwi Saision that had issues of a different sort. You see, those hairy Kiwi skins are not a friend to hop filters and transfer of the brew was a logistical nightmare. Some beer was sacrificed in search of an answer, but eventually there was plenty that squeezed itself through an area blocked with skin. The first runnings looked glorious. But whilst I retired at around half past 3, Andy fought for the beer til gone 7 in the evening.
What Andy is hoping for is a 4.2% quaffable and refreshing saison from which you can gain the Kiwi flavour. It will be revealed at the Independent Salford Beer Festival to a lucky crowd experiencing the festival's final year.
For Ticketybrew the story isn't beginning but is certainly entering a sequel. There is plenty to come from this talented brew team within their expanding brewery (they now hold three units) and shiny new kit. Personally I hope a rebrand (and updated website) are to come but for now I will settle on consistently well made beer. There should also be a Brewery Tap to come next year.
For the Independent Salford Beer Festival it may seem to be the final year, but it will be another wonderful event that Jim has created. If you don't believe in his "facile" mantra that "Beer People are Good People" then look no further than this small festival and the people involved willing to do anything for such a wonderful guy.
Beer People are Good People and that is seen no better than amongst the organiser behind the Independent Salford Beer Festival and the team of Ticketybrew.