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TIME TO REFLECT: Breweries Open and Breweries Close

Back in 2016 for the inaugural Manchester Beer Week, I helped then curator Connor Murphy conceive a couple of events. Mine focused on trying to extend the ideas outside the centre and into the eastern boroughs, mainly Tameside. This included an attempted “Tameside Tap Takeover” at Stalybridge Buffet Bar.

It says much of the advancement of the current beer scene that my requests and invitations to breweries in that period were met with confusion and scepticism. The realisation of the idea was less than I desired due to the tentativeness from both venue and breweries. Still, eventually the event took place, even if not to the enthused grandeur I had hoped.

The event had an original list of seven potential breweries within the Tameside boundaries to work with. Since summer 2016, there has been differing luck for the seven. One of the breweries never got officially going, existing as a gypsy brewery at the time. One operated as a brewpub that has ceased operation. And three of the other breweries involved – Ticketybrew, Tweed and Greenfield – have all shut since. 

Prior to that even, there had been the fairly recent closure of the Hornbeam Brewery in Denton, who would have qualified for the event. It is around 10 years since the dissolution of Shaw’s Brewery in Dukinfield, also in Tameside. The kit of that brewery went to the Quantum Brewery in Stockport who, after making some outstanding beers, have also since closed (though their brewing expertise continues in the industry.)

Within Tameside’s CAMRA branch, Whaley Bridge Brewery closed a couple of years ago. Names once familiar on the bars in the area, such as Wilson Potter and Offbeat, have gone in recent memory. And in Manchester and its surrounding areas, the list includes the likes of Carbon Smith, Vagrant Brewing and DUB, some of whom were part of that Manchester Beer Week.  

The list goes on and on when you stop to consider it. Brewery closures are frequent and history will show the loss of many. Interesting reads on blogs such as those from Tandleman and John Clarke are just some of the examples that highlight the many closures of places I never knew.

Deliberation of this started when I heard about the sad closure of Great Heck Brewery in March. This followed from the sad closure of Summer Wine Brewery back in January. They were both Yorkshire breweries I had long admired, especially their consistency in producing the sort of bitter pale beers I enjoy from cask dispense at the end of a working day. Great Heck were one of the best at this, perhaps (to use a rather ugly phrase) one of the more consistently underrated at it. 

Much of everything I felt about Summer Wine had been said in this post in 2018 after I visited their tap room for the first time. In that piece, I encouraged others to visit, elegising how quiet the place was. Yet I never returned myself. And now I never will again.

I was going to write a tribute, almost an obituary, for Great Heck brewery, expressing my sorrow at their loss. I will miss their beers. But as proven by the lengthy lists in this post alone, as well as the wistfulness from other writers, breweries come and go, like a favourite clothes shop, or a delicious restaurant you still recall the amazing Kleftiko from 17 years later.

Independent businesses change and move on. The modern social media interactions give names and voices to places like never before so that people feel more of an emotional attachment to a place and aggrieved at their loss. True to the "5 stages of grief" chronology, we reach the moment of blame. Fingers are pointed at supermarkets or cheap cask sales or hype machines or beer "influencers" as just some of the reasons behind the business breakdown.

Those better placed can make more reasonable assumptions as to why closures occur. I certainly can about the missing Tameside breweries from that 2016 event and they include none of the above routine responses. People may even think that they haven't heard of some of the breweries mentioned here and this could have contributed to their demise but that isn't how it works either. Not all business models are built on national distribution or small pack sales.

All I can do is look back and hope that I appreciated them when they were here. Luckily, I have the aforementioned post about Summer Wine, I also wrote some words about my love for Great Heck in 2014 and bigged up Ticketybrew in a post on them in 2016. I was even in the middle of writing about Ticketybrew’s recent quality resurgence when they announced, quietly in a corner of the Buffet Bar to my partner and I, that they were to close.

Just like businesses across innumerable industries, some breweries will not survive the current economical situation caused by the pandemic. Whilst such an unprecedented  situation is unpleasant, it is important to take stock and realise that the brewery landscape, like pubs, is ever changing and has been for decades. If you are passionate about one then sing about it and apply the use it or lose it attitude to any independent business you feel strongly for.

This post was to be a necrological tribute to Great Heck yet that was lost in the realisation that brewery closures occur. I will just thank them for the great beers and wish their team the best of luck going forward. I have a couple of pump clips stuck to the shed interior now so that I can look up and recall what great beers they were. Likewise, I can retire my persistent #BringBackCohort hashtag in relation to Summer Wine Brewery and just remember the times and places that I did get to enjoy that beer amongst many others.

The list of breweries available may look different after this pandemic but they were ever changing anyway. Let us use this time to reflect on those that we enjoyed and support some a little closer to home. That isn't to say that we can't enjoy that supermarket fridge pack or that imported delight, but take the time to acknowledge the sheer numbers available to us right now as they won't be here forever.


Tandleman said…
Very good piece Mark and while Covid-19 will certainly hasten the demise some and may even cause the demise of others,something -usually economics - but occasionally something else - will cause businesses to cease trading.

Problem is I suppose that it isn't always the worst breweries thst leave us - and you give some great examples - but often the best.

But it was ever thus. Use them or lose them can be easily applied to pubs, but in the world of small brewing and butterfly drinkers, applying it to breweries is a whole lot harder.

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