Build it and they will come

Beer festival organisers announce a return to Manchester Central in 2019

Beer lovers flocked to the city last month when the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival took over Manchester Central’s great hall.

Organised by the combined expertise of the nine Greater Manchester branches of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a team of 330 volunteers built the festival in four days, served a record number of drinkers in three days and dismantled the whole event in just over a day. Their efforts were recorded on a time-lapse video, now on the festival’s YouTube channel.

Although the attendance of 14,675 was just shy of 2016’s 14,804, the festival opened to the public a day less than in 2016. Organisers were delighted with the public response which reinforced the festival’s position as the biggest beer and cider festival in the North.

And drinkers didn’t just turn up. Almost every one of the 22 bars recorded an increase in consumption with a staggering 41,000 pints of cask ale supped. In line with its reputation for innovation, the festival showcased a wide range of high quality beers dispensed by keg or key-keg and 7,730 pints were enjoyed by visitors. Records tumbled at the cider and perry bar with 4,300 pints consumed, an increase of 8% from the previous year. The main international bar serving German, Czech Republic and Belgian beers shifted almost 2,100 litres (3,560 pints).

With a strong selection of ales brewed exclusively for the festival or put in cask, beer tickers were in their element. Manchester brewer Cloudwater was persuaded to put a couple of its beers in cask, and drinkers responded by shifting the firkin (nine gallons) of ‘DDH Pale NZ Chinook’ in a shade over two hours. Brewery bar Tiny Rebel was not far behind with the first cask of ‘Peaches and Cream’ drunk so fast it forced the Welsh brewer to ration the remaining supply to avoid disappointing visitors later in the week. And new beers including Middleton’s J. W. Lees who launched its Stout at the festival were in big demand.

But the festival wasn’t just about consumption. Two debates drew respectable audiences, with the Sexism in the Brewing Industry topic aimed at the trade to focus on realistic actions to eradicate outdated marketing and behaviours. The Great Manchester Beer Debate on the Saturday was lubricated by some free beer and examined the price of beer with strong contributions from those who thought it too dear (and those who thought it too cheap).

This year, in a break with tradition, the festival invited every brewer in Greater Manchester to submit a beer in any style to compete for the Manchester Brewers’ Challenge. The inaugural champion, selected by judges at the trade session on Wednesday, was Alphabet Brewing’s Type A, a keg IPA weighing in at 7% ABV and described as an orangey juice bomb using Mosaic, Simcoe, Azacca and Rakau hops. Almost immediately sold out at The Font Bar, organisers managed to get more stock in for the open days of the festival. Wigan’s Wily Fox provided the runner up with ‘Karma Citra’ in bottle form, pipping two cask stouts, Ramsbottom’s Irwell Works’ ‘Marshmallow Unicorn Milk Stout’ and ‘Javanilla’ from Donkeystone in Saddleworth.

The North of England Cider competition run at the festival on Friday selected its champion as Hedge-hoggers ‘Old Aged Pig’, produced in Seamer, North Yorkshire. Ampleforth Abbey’s ‘Traditional Still’ was named as runner up.

The North of England Perry competition saw La Cantina retain its champion title for another year. ‘Yesterday’s Dream’ is a medium-sweet example at 6% ABV made in Elland, West Yorkshire. The county also provided the runner up – ‘Udders Orchard from Huddersfield took the honours with ‘Waterloo Sunset’.

Visitors were asked to vote for their beer of the festival. Drinkers made ‘Peaches and Cream’ (5.5%) from Newport’s Tiny Rebel their top tipple with last year’s choice, Bad Kitty, a porter from Brass Castle brewery in North Yorkshire the runner-up and Stockport Brewing’s ‘Avant-Garde Cutting Edge’, a 3.8% bitter in third. Cider drinkers selected Cleeve Orchard ‘Dry’ as their favourite, and the perry of choice was from Hecks of Somerset.

There was an emotional moment as time was called for the final time. Organiser Graham Donning is standing down after a decade running the premier beer festival held in the city (initially the National Winter Ales Festival and for the last five years, Manchester Beer and Cider Festival). Drinkers paused to applaud his contribution, and volunteers recognised his vision and drive to make the cask capital also the home of the best beer festival with a suitably large bottle of … whisky.

It may be all over, but the festival is already starting planning for a return to Manchester Central from Thursday 24th to Saturday 26th January 2019.