Connor Murphy runs Beer Battered, a Manchester site covering all kinds of international beers, as well as events, pubs and home-brewing. Who better to offer a beer lover’s top tips for the city?
Personally, I’ve always had an interest in beer. From the first time I was given a pint of Guinness by my Irish relatives to the first time I set foot in my local pub, it was made abundantly clear to me that beer should be treated with respect and reverence.
In Manchester, the pub scene is dominated by the big family brewers – Robinsons, Lees, Holts and Hydes – so, instead of cutting my teeth on lager, I started out drinking pints of cask bitter and mild. This attracted plenty of jibes from my friends, who suggested I should probably wear a flat cap and smoke a pipe too, but I enjoyed how different those beers tasted from bland, mass-produced lager.
The interest rapidly grew from there, spurred on by the odd Belgian import bought by my dad and, more recently, I’ve even begun brewing my own. The blog basically started as an outlet for this interest. As a former journalist, Beer Battered seemed a good outlet for my writing and a good way to share my beer experiences with others. I attempt to cover a wide range of topics, including reviews of beers, bars and events, profiles or brewers and breweries, opinion on issues of interest and accounts of my home-brewing misadventures.
Traditional pubs with good beer menus
[Marble Arch – picture: Si Wilson / Flickr / CC]
In terms of traditional pubs with good beer offerings, the Marble Arch leads the way. It’s a stunning Victorian pub that celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, complete with glazed tiles on the walls and mosaic flooring. It also happens to be home to the Marble brewery, which is one of the city’s most celebrated and progressive breweries, producing a range of beers that combines traditional methods and styles with the best of the modern craft beer movement. At any time, you can choose from of their beers fresher than you’ll get them anywhere else, given they’ve only come from downstairs!
The Angel, a short stumble from the Arch, also boasts a good range alongside a decent food menu and the City Arms is an unpretentious boozer with a decent atmosphere offering well-kept ales.
Best bars for beer lovers
The boundaries between pubs and bars are becoming increasingly blurred and Port Street Beer House probably best encapsulates this cultural shift. It’s part bar, part pub, providing a lively atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights but also plenty of nooks and crannies where you can retire for a quiet pint. Port Street has perhaps been Manchester’s most influential watering hole in recent years, introducing a previously unforeseen variety of beer from around the world and driving demand for modern ‘craft’ beer in the city. It’s sometimes criticised for charging high prices but no other venue puts as much thought and work into cultivating their beer list.
In the wake of this success, several others have followed suit and long-standing student haunt Font Bar now boasts an impressive range in cask, keg and bottle. There are also established venues such as Knott Bar, Bar Fringe and Sandbar, which offer great beer without any fuss, and Common, which is also run by the Port Street crew.
Port Street Beer House, 39-41 Port St, M1 2EQ, (0161 237 9949, www.portstreetbeerhouse.co.uk)
Font Bar, 7-9 New Wakefield St, M1 5NP, (0161 236 0944, thefontbar.wordpress.com/manchester)
Knott Bar, 374 Deansgate, M3 4LY, (0161 839 9229, knottbar.co.uk)
Bar Fringe, 8 Swan St, M4 5JN, (0161 835 3815)
Sandbar, 120 Grosvenor St, M1 7HL, (0161 273 1552, www.sandbarmanchester.co.uk)
Common, 39 Edge St, M4 1HW, (0161 832 9245, www.aplacecalledcommon.co.uk)
Restaurants that excel with their beer menu
[The French – picture: Alan Spedding / Flickr / CC]
It’s always puzzled me how so many restaurants put so much care and attention into the food they produce, meticulously sourcing the best possible ingredients, yet fail to put the same effort into their beer list. It seems so incongruous that a restaurant would sell the best, locally-sourced produce but offer only macro lagers as an accompaniment, particularly given the abundance of great British beer now available.
The French at the Midland Hotel and its sister restaurant, Mr Cooper’s House and Garden – both run by Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan – already serve Red Willow and will soon stock Summer Wine too. Elsewhere, your best bet for good food and a genuinely good beer list remains pubs like The Angel or the Marble Arch.
Breweries you can visit
Blackjack Beers, based not far from the Marble Arch, has recently started to open its doors to the public and is well worth a visit. First Chop Brewery ( firstchopbrewingarm.com) also operates a brewery beneath a railway arch in Salford and uses the adjoining room to put on a host of gigs and events, while also offering good-quality street food.
Blackjack, Irk St, M4 4JT, (0161 819 2767, www.blackjack-beers.com)
Mmmm beer. pic.twitter.com/RLfSf028EV
— Connor Murphy (@likethemurphys) July 1, 2014
Shops with the best range of beers
In Manchester city centre, you can’t look any further than Beermoth. Their selection of American craft beer is one of the best I’ve seen and they also offer plenty more goodies from the UK and across Europe.
The Liquor Shop in Whitefield has opened more recently and feels a bit like a tardis, offering an excellent selection of beer from across the UK in the tiny premises. High Peak Beer on Stockport Market is also worth a visit – another small but well-stocked shop run by a knowledgeable and amiable owner.
Beermoth, 70 Tib St, M4 1LG, (0161 222 4001, beermoth.co.uk)
The Liquor Shop, 88 Bury Old Road, M45 6TQ, (www.theliquorshop.co.uk)
High Peak Beer, Unit 25, Victorian Market Hall, 19 Market Place, Stockport, (highpeakbeer.webs.com)
Essential Manchester beer events
Indy Man Beer Con (9 – 12 Oct, 2014) is the one event I clear my diary for. It’s run by the same folks as Port Street Beer House and has redefined the modern beer festival, sticking a flag in the ground for cutting-edge British brewing. Hosted in the stunning Edwardian setting of Victoria Baths, it offers an unmatched range of beer from the best and boldest microbreweries this country has to offer.
The Manchester Beer Festival (21 – 24 Jan, 2015) was also launched in January this year, replacing the CAMRA Winter Ales Festival after it was relocated to Derby. Hosted in the middle of the track at Manchester Velodrome, it proved largely successful and can only improve in years to come.
24 hours in Manchester for beer lovers
[Common – picture: Tim Parkinson / Flickr / CC]
A lazy afternoon spent sat outside the Blackjack brewery tap in the blazing sunshine – probably asking a bit too much in Manchester. This would be followed by a bit of food and a couple of pints in the Marble Arch, a quick stop at Port Street and some late-night tunes in Common.
Hidden gems for beer lovers
My hidden gem is actually half an hour outside the city centre in the leafy suburb of Altrincham. Although it’s not exactly renowned for its pub culture, Altrincham boasts not one but two specialist Belgian bars in its market square. The best of the two is Mort Subite, situated underground in the former mortuary for Altrincham General Hospital. That might sound a bit creepy but, although there’s a touch of the gothic about it, it’s got the feel of a decadent speakeasy, a warm atmosphere and a superb beer list.
Mort Subite, 28-32 Greenwood St, Altrincham, Cheshire WA14 1RZ, (www.mortsubite.eu)
Beers and breweries to look out for
As far as British breweries go, Buxton and Magic Rock can’t be beaten at the moment. Both are consistently brilliant and provide me with complete assurance that when I order one of their beers, I’ll get something I enjoy. Magic Rock’s Farmhouse IPA, brewed in collaboration with Lervig, and Buxton’s Wyoming Sheep Ranch are two of my favourites from the last few months.
It's been a long time coming but today we're bottling Ace Edge pic.twitter.com/aICsaaGAxN
— BuxtonBrewery (@BuxtonBrewery) July 2, 2014
Looking further afield, I love Firestone Walker‘s beers and they have a strong claim to be the best brewery in the world. More recently I’ve also enjoyed Candaian brewery Dieu du Ciel – their coffee stout Péché Mortel is incredible.
My all-time favourite beer
It’s hard to say really, as different beers work well in different situations and I’ll very rarely drink the same beer twice in a row. However, for its incredible mixture of drinkability and complexity, Orval still takes some beating.
Tips for home brewers
Read, read, read. Knowledge is power so it pays to do plenty of research using reputable sources before you get stuck into brewing at home. John Palmer’s How to Brew is definitely a good place to start.
It’s also important not to worry too much. As a new homebrewer it’s not uncommon to fret about your beer from start to finish. Have I got the recipe right? Have I infected the batch? Why does it not seem to be fermenting? More often than not, these worries will be unfounded and messing round with the beer can actually put you at greater risk of causing problems. Just relax and see how it turns out – it’s hard to make a completely undrinkable batch.
First dry hop has gone into the Sorachi Rye Pale. Gravity down to 1.010. Very drinkable too, mild rye spice. pic.twitter.com/WO2KJhhIVr
— Connor Murphy (@likethemurphys) July 4, 2014
Craft beer: future or fad?
It’s important to distinguish between the current trend towards ‘craft’ beer in the pub and retail trade and just genuinely good beer. Good beer is not a fad and the recent growth of British microbrewing will have a lasting effect on tastes, quality, innovation and the industry as a whole.
In America, craft beer has a specific definition, created to help smaller breweries distinguish themselves from the lager-producing macros who dominate the market over there. In the UK, we’re in a different position where there are scores of excellent traditional regional brewers also plying their trade alongside the new breed so the term ‘craft’ becomes a little unhelpful because it starts to become exclusive rather than inclusive.
The fact is, we can now enjoy a greater variety of quality beer than ever before and I’m confident choice will only continue to improve.
Find the places mentioned by Connor on our Manchester map:
More beer lover’s guides:
More Manchester guides:
• 10 of the best bars in Manchester
• 14 of the best restaurants in Manchester for any budget
• 10 of the best shops in Manchester
• 10 things to do for free in Manchester
• Best cheap eats in Manchester