This is our year of beer. We have always been fans, but the past few months have seen a vague interest morph into an all-out hoppy obsession. We have:
- made our way up and down the Bermondsey Beer Mile
- checked out Craft Beer Rising
- sipped small batch special releases from Brooklyn Beer
- walked a swaying path between several London Beer City venues, and spent a colourful afternoon at Beavertown’s Rainbow Project.
- And let’s not forget the excellent events hosted by Hop Burns and Black in East Dulwich.
But we had never ventured away from our home turf. So when craft beer commentator Matt Curtis said one of his highlights of the year was the Independent Manchester Beer Convention (IMBC) we were interested.
First off – the surrounds – held in the city’s historic Victoria Baths this is one good-looking event. Three disused pools play host to more than 30 breweries – from home-grown Magic Rock in the dimly lit ‘dance room’ to Austin, Texas outfit Jester King – whose Le Petit Prince and funky collaboration pilsner (Kollaborationsbiermittschechischemhopfenundwilderbakterienhefekombination, which means collaboration beer with Czech hops, wild yeast and bacteria in German) we are still thinking about. The other two pools are flooded with natural light thanks to the glass roofs, and each room is surrounded by stable-style numbered changing cubicles – half wooden doors topped with red-and-white gingham curtains.
The chipped and rusty blue paint adds to the charm. Outside, a chow down of food trucks (ok, you come up with a better collective noun) keeps drinkers’ stomach lined, while the ornate tiled Pineapple and Green Rooms host classes – like a live blogging event with Matt Curtis and Craft Beer Channel’s Jonny Garrett who leads a journey through 8 styles of IPA.
With an egalitarian approach to pricing – 1 token equals a 1/3 of any beer – and heaps of friendly punters, it’s easy to see why this event has won so many fans. Watch out Manchester, we will be back. And not just during October’s beer event – after a quick dash around the city we felt we had just skimmed the surface of a flourishing cultural and gourmet hub. With limited time, we managed to tick off a few places we want to share:
Old and new collide in the Northern Quarter
Welcome to this characterful little warren of sheets, where vintage clothes shops selling retro fashions rub shoulders with independent bars and cafes serving the latest food trends.
Seriously, Edge Street alone reads like a how-to hipster guide – there’s fried chicken at Yard & Coop, pimped-up burgers at Almost Famous, burritos and margaritas at Liquor & Burn, a Beaverton beer-tap takeover at Common (which channels a great student union for grown-ups vibe with its sagging armchairs and cheese-covered comfort food), coding, web dev and shouldering classes (for the purposes of making your own radio) at Mad Lab, desks available at co-working venue Zweitblat, and exhibition rooms at Wearhouse. Add to that a complex of luxury flats situated behind the facade of the gorgeous red-brick Fish Wholesale Market.
An extra word on Almost Famous, where we lost our hearts – and possibly knocked off a few months from our lives. We had actually already encountered these flavour-packed burgers at IMBC, as they were being sold from the Wondertruck, and we were blown away.
Not only is the patty itself so juicy and perfectly seasoned, the inventive toppings and loaded fries are a stroke of genius. And sure, Frazzle dust, hotdog melt and ‘trailer trash’ fried onions might sound like a great big gimmick if only the whole melted mess didn’t taste so darn good. This is guilty pleasure food as its very best, served against a backdrop of Walt Disney on acid wall art.
After all that beer, recovery coffee is a must. And there is no shortage of places to enjoy the humble bean – we grabbed takeaways but wish could have spent longer soaking up the super laid-back vibe at Takk and browsing the cute homewares sold at Fig & Sparrow.
And as for sustenance, Federal is an Antipodean inspired brunch spot that brings a ray of sunshine with its coconut-covered Lamigntons and classic Aussie fry-up of haloumi, mushrooms and poached eggs to this corner of the Northern Quarter. From Australia to America, Alabama is far more stylish (in a kitsch kind of way) than the heart-stopping diner fare menu would have you believe.
Order a stack of waffles or pancakes drenched in Maple syrup and piled high with delicious salty crispy bacon while sipping your Texan ice tea. Or for the more savoury-toothed, eggs come drenched with hollandaise and ham, smoked salmon or crab cakes. Unashamedly big portions and warm service succeed in bringing a slice of South Atlantic soul to the city.
All-day drinking options
Opening just over a month ago, we have read some reviews that talk of The Palace Hotel’s aspirations of emulating London and Amsterdam’s uber cool Hoxton Hotels. But this sprawling restored and refreshed venue doesn’t need to rely on imitations. Spanning the ground floor of this grand corner building, The Refuge consists of a multitude of micro spaces and has got the breakfast through to post-dinner digestifs thing sorted with its huge bar, intimate booths, private dining rooms and winter garden housed in a conservatory. Yes, really.
The long cocktail list comprises house creations – we tried the Fresh and Rested with Reposed tequila, reshape, quince, lime, mint and hibiscus honey – but they can also whip up a old reliable Old Fashioned at a moment’s notice. Then there’s an even longer wine list – that runs to vermouth, sherry and port – plus six rotating taps of craft beer. So no one’s going thirsty. And the food?
Great flavours, and it’s rare to find a menu that is such a crowd-pleaser: there’s a little bit of everything on this accomplished modern European offering.
‘Dad, these are not starters’ it says at the start of the Voltini section, which ranges from cheese and charcuterie, meat and seafood to vegetables and raw.
Grilled tiger prawns, chilli and lime butter
Volcanic tomatoes, canteloupe, goat’s cheese, basil and black vinegar
The wait staff suggest three per person, or opt for a larger plate:
Lebanese lamb chops with broccolini
Crispy buttermilk chicken, cornbread, jalapeno butter
Or even a ‘for the table’ offering – a whole leg of slow-roast lamb or 24oz grass-fed Dexter rib on the bone, perhaps.
If you are after less style and more back-to-basics boozers we recommend Smithfield Tavern. Although, while at first glance Blackjack Brewery’s taphouse looks like an old-bloke’s drinking den, on closer inspection it looks like a pub that’s been styled by the team at Monocle. With its red lamp illuminating the dart board, which hangs next to a great retro scoring board, vintage posters, mid-century sideboard, tarnished mirrors and upright piano sitting in the corner. Oh, and of course there’s a stack of board games from your youth.
Then at the Crown & Kettle we urge you to look up as you drain your pint and admire the crumbling glory of this Grade II listed building’s ceiling. That’s the beauty of this city – great culture and great craft beer, with a great food scene to match. Planning our return visit as I type…
INSIDE Manchester (1 First St, Manchester M15 4RP) Website
Eat & Drink:
The Refuge (Oxford Street, Manchester M60 7HA) Website
Almost Famous (100-102 High St, Manchester M4 1HP) Website