Manchester is a constantly changing city. The most obvious example of this is the skyline. 10 years ago the tallest building was the Beetham Tower, standing at 169 metres and towering over its nearest rival the City Tower by an impressive 46 metres. But now it too is dwarfed by those around it including the imaginatively named Deansgate Square South Tower which stands at a whopping 201 metres.
The internationally known Northern Quarter ten years ago was “a bit dodgy” with some areas that you wouldn’t want to be in after dark, and some alleys that you wouldn’t want to be in during the day either. Which was perfect for providing low rent for those small independents who were looking to set up with more skill and enthusiasm than money. Yet now they’ve mostly been priced out to the outskirts as the money and the brands have moved in. Even the successful businesses just couldn’t justify the rent hikes that were going on, some making the decision to move, some shutting up shop entirely.
It’s evolution of a kind, a survival of the financially fittest.
And over the last few years the beer scene too has changed, almost beyond recognition. You used to be able to spend a Saturday afternoon wandering happily between different breweries, ordering beers poured from hastily put together mobile bars that more often than not were trestle tables propped up in front of the brew kit, sat around on casks and kegs with pallets for tables, drinking in the brewery. Manchester was at the forefront of that stage of craft beer, and whilst it’s changed almost beyond recognition, I think it’s now at the forefront of the evolution of craft as it too changes into something almost beyond recognition.
So where can you go now for a drink?
The city centre brewery taps are still there, in a way. Temperance Street Brewery in the arch that was once our own Beer Nouveau Brewery has just shut its doors and
Manchester Union doesn’t open their tap regularly anymore, but their beers (plural now, it’s not just the lager!) are found throughout the city, Wander Beyond, Alphabet Brewery, Carbonsmith and Chorlton have all fully closed and gone too.
It’s not all bad news though, close by there is Cloudwater who are running the same as they previously were, although they are less strict about entry and now allow children until 8pm, as well as allowing dogs. Track have their taproom across the road and it’s a sight to behold, open Tuesday to Sunday. With 20 keg lines (mostly the variations of IPA that they are so good at) and 3 cask lines we start to see what were once hastily assembled taps becoming more like fixed and fanciful bars. It’s spacious and very stylish and really upped the game for brewery taps in the area; but don’t worry it still has trestle tables and benches to sit on looking into the brewery.
Around the corner, less than five minutes away from Cloudwater and Track there is now also Sureshot. Set up by James Cambell, the former head brewer at Cloudwater, Sureshot has a more modern dive bar feel to it, more fun and a little bit silly at times, but the beer quality is serious. Some superb modern lagers and excellent IPAs can be found on the tiled bar in the cosy atmosphere here.
Brand new to the city centre brew tap scene is Balance, only a few doors along from Sureshot, opening Fridays and Saturdays, this new addition sells only barrel-aged and blended wild fermented beers. Don’t let the wild ferment aspect put you off, the beers hold their own against anything else on the market and really show the brewing pedigree of James and Will who both previously worked at Chorlton Brewery before working at Track and Squawk. They’ve brought that experience with them, and the newly opened taproom has a luxurious, slightly swanky ambience to it. And on the other side of the city there is Green Arches, quietly getting on providing a chilled drinking spot for the apartments surrounding it. And if you head over the river into Salford there’s also Lark Hill Brewery in The Old Fire Station on the campus of Salford University itself with the incredibly talented Chang Men at the helm to provide students and staff with a little bit of craft class.
Out of the city centre there are other brewery taps, Pomona Island opens a tap occasionally, and the Seven Bo7hers tap opens every Friday and Saturday. And there’s now the new Hideaway Brewery tap just along the road from Marble’s Brewery (who only open for private events at the moment).
On the opposite side of town, out in Altrincham is Stubborn Mule, stubbornly doing their own thing, and doing it well every weekend too.
There’s more to the beer scene in Manchester than just the brewery taps though. In another example of how the breweries have ‘grown up’ we’ve seen an increase in the number of breweries that have opened their own bars. Squawk Brewery have opened Pelican in the old Beatnikz bar and Blackjack have the Smithfield, both in the Northern Quarter. Cloudwater have fully taken on board Sadlers Cat near Victoria Station and Pomona Island are opening North Westward Ho near to Cafe Beermoth and Seven Bro7hers have opened up several bars in the city and surrounding area. And there’s always the institution that is The Marble Arch. And this is all in addition to the family brewers of Holts, Hydes, Robbies and Lees that all seem to have upped their game in the last few years.
This focus on single brewery venues has also attracted breweries from further afield to open bars here too. Fierce have taken over the old Marble bar at 57 Thomas Street, Northern Monk have a venue opposite Pelican, Vocation have Society near to the Bridgewater Hall and North have a bar at Circle Square by Oxford Road Station.
With such a wealth of brewery owned bars it seems that the focus of drinking in the city has changed purely to this sort of venue, but the resurgence of The City Arms and Port Street Beer House, the long standing excellence of Cafe Beermoth and the appearance of Joule prove that there is still a desire for some variation from further afield. The City Arms provides that rare mix of macro and micro, trad and craft, all on one bar. Port Street brings in some of the rarer beers from around the world, Cafe Beermoth specialises in a superb bottle list of some amazing sours alongside a bar that showcases some of the best European and local keg, with a contention for the best kept cask in the city, and Joule is the place to go for the rare, hard to get craft at the top of the brewers game with some of the best from the US usually on draught. Perhaps one of the most surprising pubs in Manchester city centre though is the Molly House in the city’s Gay Village which provides a traditional, if swanky pub pouring excellent quality local cask, whilst surrounded by large bars churning out mainstream.
And all of these venues are nothing like there were ten years ago, if they were even around back then. And very few are like they were pre-Pandemic either. It seems that those years have made the beer industry in Manchester mature. Seats are more comfortable, tables are cleaned more frequently, glass washers work. Craft here has left its “teenage years” and become more middle-aged, it’s still getting out there and having fun, but it appreciates being able to take it easy.