Beer fans will head to Manchester for Cloudwater’s first Friends & Family festival, from 1-2 March, where the spotlight will be on a city where craft-beer tourism is booming. And aside from the festival, each weekend visitors can tour a walkable collection of brew-taps and brewery-owned city-centre bars – and drink some of Britain’s best beer. Here is your essential guide.
It is difficult to make an industrial railway arch unit cosy but, near Victoria station, owner Mark Welsbyhas transformed Runaway’s split-level space of pallets and trestle tables into a laid-back nook that’s ideal for lingering – despite the fact you’re drinking from plastic glasses overlooking a working brewery. There is moody lighting, board games, beer skittles, interesting music and a few subtly eccentric decorative flourishes. Eight keg taps are augmented by bottles to drink-in/takeaway. Do not miss the Tropical Crush double IPA (DIPA) and the modern Manchester classic, Runaway’s IPA. Made with an unusually dark crystal malt, it is a beer of rare depth. Brewery tours available.
• Pint from £4.20, therunawaybrewery.com
57 Thomas Street
Marble Brewery’s Marble Arch is one of northern England’s most famous pubs: a gorgeous 19th-century tiled masterpiece. Less well known is that Marble also owns a second tap-house in the Northern Quarter. Originally a rather awkward one-room bar with a single communal table, Thomas Street has blossomed into two buzzy floors of nattily designed drinking space. The legendary likes of Marble’s Lagonda, Early Grey IPA and Dobber beers are joined by select guests (Magic Rock, Squawk, etc). Head upstairs for Marble’s cask ales, which may include Pint, its 3.9% stroke of dry, hoppy genius.
• Pint from £3.40, marblebeers.com
Cloudwater Unit 9
A stone’s throw from the traffic of Great Ancoats Street, this brewery tap has a Zen-like calm. Ornamental plants decorate a minimalist, Scandi-style pale-wood interior, while tasteful electronica burbles away discreetly. It is a space as design-conscious as Cloudwater’s artwork; large versions of which are displayed on-site. Cloudwater is zealous about freshness and Unit 9’s 20 taps pour beers kegged and served within seven days from a 3C cold-store. Everything is served in set third, half and two-third measures (no pints), which will irk some people – as may the controversial decision to make Unit 9 cashless and card-only. On the upside, the flat £3.50 pricing makes this one of the cheaper places to experience Cloudwater’s exceptional but notoriously expensive beers. Unit 9 also hosts irregular tap-takeovers with similarly cutting-edge breweries (Verdant, Against The Grain).
• Beers £3.50, cloudwaterbrew.co
Seven Bro7hers Beerhouse
A world away from the sometimes oppressive reverence of the geekiest craft bars, Seven Bro7ther’s Ancoats tap is a looser, friendlier, frequently packed proposition. For all its light hipster stylings (a lot of rough-hewn planks and filament lightbulbs), fundamentally this is a big unpretentious boozer, which happens to sell unusually good beer. The tap selection includes guest beers from breweries as diverse as 4T’s and Gipsy Hill but naturally the Salford brewery’s beers dominate. Its stout and keg IPA are dependable drops.
• Pint from £3.80, sevenbro7hers.com
Less of a destination than when GRUB ran its street-food events here, this newly revamped brewery-tap (out goes communal seating in comes heaters) remains an essential stop-off on any Manchester crawl; if only to try Alphabet’s oatmeal-spiked pale ale, A To The K. In the warren of railway arch units around Piccadilly station, the brewery is jazzily decorated with the fever-dream graphic art that designer Nick Hamilton creates for Alphabet’s, at times, equally out-there beers (for example, Carry On Crampus cranberry bock; You’re So Vain salted caramel imperial stout). Alphabet has recently gone down the no-pints, card-only route. Two-third schooners are now its largest serve. Over summer, expect music and street food one-offs in the courtyard.
• Two-thirds from £2.60, @ABCtaproom
Unusually colourful (its orange banquettes and Perspex back-bar give it a look of a 1980s Top of the Pops set), this Dale Street tap-house serves a mix of quality guest beers (Wild Beer, Mikeller, Burning Sky), and Beatnikz’ hop-forward brews, such as I Smash Citra and Generation IPA. The weekday cask ale deals are notable (recently pie ‘n’ a pint £5, Mon/Tues), as is Beatnikz’s ability to bag high-profile guests for its meet-the-brewer events. For instance Arbor Ales and US star Modern Times.
• Pint from £3.70, beatnikzrepublic.com
Furnished with old sofas and salvaged fireplace surrounds, this homely take on the railway arch brew-tap has emerged as an affable, community hub for local beer geeks. It’s a little further out into Ardwick, and variously hosts the Manchester branch of the Mikkeller Running Club and irregular events, such as home-brew meets and themed tastings. Owner Steve Dunkley is fascinated by historic and unusual brewing recipes and usually has one gravity-dispensed or barrel-aged curveball on each week. Regulars swear by his Peterloo porter, a dark beer for all seasons.
• Pint from £3, beernouveau.co.uk
Each summer, Blackjack Brewery throws open its railway arch doors for a series of brew-taps. On a warm evening, sat under the courtyard’s DIY pergola, eating astonishingly good Neapolitan pizza from Honest Crust, as a range of diverting DJs spin, it is one of the city’s best off-piste industrial hideaways. Out of season, you can also drink Blackjack’s beers (timeless hoppy cask pales, such as New Deck, out-there creations like the jasmine tea saison Dragon’s Tears), at its pub, the Smithfield. A stripped-back, low-frills bolthole serving forward-thinking beers, it is perfect.
• Pint from £3.80, @TheSmithfieldNQ
Track Brewing Co Taproom
Another tap that may irritate traditionalists (no cash, card-only; no pints, two-third schooners only) but, in other ways, this temporary space on the third-floor of the mid-renovation Crusader Mill is a charmer. Behind Piccadilly station, finding it is an adventure in itself and having made that pilgrimage the beer-lovers at its communal tables seem happy to be here – and not just those larking about on the ping-pong table. The room has a good feel. From Track’s sensational beers (nine keg taps, plus select bottles), try that New England-style juice bomb Going To The Sun and Sonoma, a 3.8% pale ale that packs a remarkable flavour punch.
• Two-thirds from £2.50, trackbrewing.co
Best of the rest
On Oxford Road, the shipping-container bar and nano-brewery, Öl, is doing arresting things in the realm of wild foraged saisons and milkshake IPAs (@olbrewerybar; card-only). Several other Manchester breweries, mainly in Ancoats and Ardwick, also open for sporadic brew-tap events from spring. Keep an eye on Wander Beyond and Manchester Brewing Co, which has “some new big shiny kit going in” it will unveil over the May and August bank holiday weekends. The consistently brilliant Pomona Island Brew Co will open a regular tap at its Salford Quays brewery this summer, as well as throwing its now annual Manchester Beer Week boat party, launching from city-centre bar, Gas Lamp, where Pomono beers are always available (dates tbc).