There’s an ongoing conversation of where is the Best Beer City in the World, and this is something that I’ve often given thought to. You can’t just claim somewhere is the best, and reel off a load of examples of great pubs or bars without actually giving it some proper thought. After all, what you may personally like might not be to someone else’s tastes. And the best beer city in the world needs to cater well to everyone, whatever their tastes. And in that I include those that don’t drink beer. Why? Because a lot of people who do like beer have partners or friends they go out with who don’t like beer. And it’s not much of a night out if one or two of your group are miserable. But the focus does still need to be on beer.

In deciding the best city, you can’t just look at the numbers. Because numbers on their own can lie. You can say that a city has more pubs per capita than anywhere else, but 99% of those pubs might only sell multinational brands. You can say that at any time a city has over 300 different ales available to drink, and whilst that may be true, is that 300 different beers that you’d want to drink? Some years ago I was lucky enough to visit The Yard House in Las Vegas which boasted over 100 beers on draught. Most of them however, were the likes of Becks, Bud, Miller and Coors alongside such international rarities as Boddingtons, Greene King IPA and Old Speckled Hen. It did have some Dogfish Head to redeem itself though.

But it shows that you can’t just look at the numbers on their own. These days you could easily open up a bar that had over 100 IPAs on draught, and whilst it’d be a great pub for fans of IPAs, it wouldn’t be so great for lovers of darker beers, or anything other than IPA. So we have to take into account the range of beers, not just the numbers.

And it’s also not just the variety of styles, but also the range of serving. Cask and keg are two very different dispense methods. If you package the same beer into both it will taste completely different. So the best beer city will need to have a great variety of both cask and keg, as well as bottles and cans. 

The need for a good range of cask rules out pretty much any city that isn’t in the UK. There are some great beer cities around the world, but without cask they don’t cater to everyone and therefore in my opinion can’t claim to be the best beer city in the world. No matter how many lines of IPA they have.

Then there’s the types of venues themselves. For this I’m categorising them all rather brutally into four types: Pubs, Bars, Taps and Bottle Shops. Pubs are the more traditional feeling ones, bars are the more modern feeling ones, taps are the brewery taps (at the brewery itself, else it’s a bar) and bottle shops are places that are either primarily a bottle shop that allows drinking on site, or a mixture of a bottle shop and a bar. Not the best definitions, Boak & Bailey have come up with far better ones, but it works for this. 

To be the best beer city in the world, you need to have a good range of all these, and they also need to be easy to get to. It may well be that a city has some great pubs, but if they’re more than 20 minutes walk or taxi ride away from each other, then they’re too far spread out. You can’t have a great pub crawl anywhere it takes longer to get between places than it takes to drink a pint, they need to be accessible. And that doesn’t just mean easy to get to, but easy to get to and in for everyone; disabled access is an absolute must to be considered a great venue. And once in, absolutely everyone needs to be properly welcome. There’s no point putting posters up saying “Everyone Welcome” when it’s clearly not the case.

Last and certainly not least, the beer must be of both good quality, and good value. And I’d like to make it clear that “good value” doesn’t mean “cheap.” Something can be cheap, but you still begrudge paying for it, and something can be a “bit pricey” but you feel that you’ve got your money’s worth. A great venue, with superb quality beers served by fully trained and enthusiastic staff can justify charging a bit more for the beer in your glass. But that same price or even cheaper where the glass is dirty, the tables are wet with spilt beer, the staff are surly and you really don’t want to risk the toilets; that’s not justified.

As for quality, far, far too many pints of beer are badly looked after. Both at the brewery and at the bar. There’s no point saying “we’ve got over 12 real ales” when what you’re actually pouring is 2 decent beers and 10 variations of wet cardboard and vinegar. 

With these criteria in mind, whilst Sheffield, Norwich and London all claim to be great beer cities, and they are, the accolade for the Best Beer City falls to Manchester.
And I’m not being biased just because I live there.

Brewery wise Manchester (and I’m including Greater Manchester in this) has the four Family breweries of Holts, Hydes, Robinsons and Lee’s along with such notable modern producers of traditional styles including Marble, Track, Runaway and Blackjack. For the more craft tastes there are Cloudwater, Track, Marble, Sureshot, Pomona Island, Seven Brothers, Hideaway, Courier, Green Arches and Bundobust. There is even the lager focussed brewery of Manchester Union, and the mixed fermentation at Balance.

The range of different styles, all of high quality that is brewed in Manchester is truly superb, and far better than most cities even have available.

When it comes to venues for cask there are all the family brewery tied estates along with Cafe Beermoth, North Westward Ho, City Arms, Port Street, Cask (both of them) Smithfield Tavern, Peveril of the Peak, Sandbar, Victoria Tap, Pelican, Marble Arch and many, many more. In recent years cask is starting to get the recognition and treatment in Manchester that it deserves.

If you’re after the keg beers, Cafe Beermoth, Port Street, Pelican, Fierce, Northern Monk, Society, Bundobust, Sadler’s Cat, North Brew Co, Grub, City Arms and Marble Arch are just the start of the list.
Several venues are on both of those lists for good reason, they excel at both cask and keg, and within those lists are a good mix of traditional style pubs such as City Arms, Marble Arch, North Westward Ho, Peveril of the Peak, Port Street and Smithfield Tavern alongside the more modern styled venues of Cask, Cafe Beermoth, Pelican, Bundobust, Grub and Sadler’s Cat. 

And as well as the local brewery venues of Marble Arch (Marble), Smithfield (Blackjack), North Westward Ho (Pomona Island), Manchester is also home to bars from Fierce, Northern Monk, Vocation (Society) and North Brew Co. Even breweries from out of the area recognise how good a city Manchester is for beer.

And then there’s the tap rooms themselves. Cloudwater, Track, Sureshot, Balance and Green Arches all have taps within the city centre. Bundobust Brewery is based within one of its restaurants here. There’s also Gasworks and a Brewdog Outpost. And if you go out of the centre itself, there’s also Lark Hill and Hideaway.

If the breweries and pubs weren’t enough, there’s the festivals which Manchester seems to have an abundance of. And then there’s regular events like Block Party, Friends and Family, the weekly GRUB and the new Historic Brewing Convention.

There is always something happening in Manchester to suit any beery tastes. Whether it’s a quiet pint in a traditional pub, a flight of hazy thirds in a tap room looking into the brewery, or pretty much anything in between, you can get it in Manchester. You can think of your perfect pub, and there’ll be a good pub crawl of them in the city. You can think of your favourite styles of beers, or your perfect days’ drinking list, and you can get it walking through the city.

So yes, other places are great to go drinking and you may well justifiably have your favourite, but when it comes to the Best Beer City for everyone, that’s Manchester.