If I’m honest, Manchester is a place I’ve never really got to grips with. I’ve been through it more times than I care to remember. I’ve spent plenty time at The Crown Court and visited loads of GMP Police Stations over the years. There’s some vague, 30+ years ago, recollections of the Hacienda and a party one Saturday night in a nurses home somewhere out near Wythenshawe, remember that one Micky Ryan? I even went out with a very attractive young lady called Susan Walsh from Chorlton for a while, but she dropped me for some guy out of a quite well known (mainstream) Manchester band. Very much a case of Mrs Merton’s brilliant one liner “… and tell me, what first attracted you to the Millionaire …” Or so I thought at the time.
Anyway, The Peoples History Museum was very easy to find and turned out to be a fantastic venue for a beer festival, as well as an interesting museum; river side terrace, café restaurant, exhibition galleries and the stunning Edwardian Engine Hall. I like industrial spaces and this tall, almost cuboid space, was the central focus for The Left Bank Beer Festival.
Now Central Manchester CAMRA has only been going for about four months and to set up a beer festival in that time is no mean feat, especially to pull it off as successfully as they did. Apparently ‘central Manchester’ was previously covered by three separate CAMRA branches until someone noticed that all the large cities had their own branch. So, after a little heated debate, the logical progression into Central Manchester CAMRA happened.
I probably got there a little early, owing to travelling on the cheapest train (prompt for Yorkshire war cry!) but I was made very welcome and put to good use by bar manager Heather, assisting with Quality Control checks and washing drip drays and the like. I was surprised how many of the beers were still a little hazy and green, maybe half a dozen? Heather said she would have liked to have seen the beer racked a little earlier than Tuesday. Barring those that just weren’t quite right, I did my very best to make inroads into the rest of the eighty odd beers. Overall, I was impressed with the quality and standard of the, predominantly North Western brewed, ales on offer. Many of those on the bar were telling me that the Cloudwater Brew Co. Pale was better than the Bitter. Personal choice, I thought otherwise, but both were still very good. Stockport Brewing Company Cascade Bitter hit the spot for a good quaffing ale that would suit most tastes. Five Oh Brew Co. Simcoe IPA was superb but it’s very tropical fruity, hoppy without any real bitter bite and soft malt that left an almost sweet taste wouldn’t suit everyone. The one I had to go back for as ‘the last half’ was Thirst Class Ale Penny Black IPA. Please note, the last three are all small micro breweries or brew pubs.
Festival glasses were stemmed ones, lined at one third and one half pint and prices were very excellent value at effectively £3 a pint for standard strength, going up comparatively to £10 a pint for the 10% ABV, Ramsbottom Craft Brewery aka Rammy Craft Imperial Mancunian Stout which would have been hellish on a cold winters night sat by a roaring fire as an after dinner treat!
Cider drinkers had a good choice at a separate bar and there was a separate post modernist key keg bar serving local and european ales which changed as they went off. Alex, the bearded Key Keg bar manager showed me the set up and I was impressed with the dispense system which had the facility to vent the beer in a small chamber between keg and post, neat. I picked up quite a few tips throughout the day on the cellar management side of things from Heather, deputy bar manager Laurent and Alex and I thank them for that.
A few beer festival points came out for me. I know the security and cash management benefits of a token style system, but as a punter I prefer straight cash and as a barman I can process cash much faster than I can tick lines off a card or take tokens/tickets plus 10p, 20p, etc. The other one was tasters, at a beer festival? I know it happens, but isn’t the point of going to a beer festival to experiment, try out, contrast and compare; not to find out which one you like and then stick to it. I guess it’s personal preference, but surely a third of a pint is a taster? I am firmly of the opinion – no tasters at a beer festival.
Overall, I had a very good day, at a really good beer festival which had an almost intimate atmosphere, that is often lacking. It was obvious that this atmosphere came from the people involved who were warm, friendly and accommodating. Okay, the charming Charmione, did say that she would be glad to see the back of me after less than half an hour of working with me. She didn’t mean it though, did she?
I (tallish, bald bloke with glasses and Yorkshire accent) will apologise now to those who asked me about the local beers and the brewers, of whom I did not have a scooby do! I also apologise to those drinking the Wilson Potter Rum in The Black to whom I related the story about two lady brewers who were related to Beatrix Potter. I did discuss with fellow bar person Peter, that I could take the story further by explaining the ale was dry hopped with fragments of Beatrix Potters drawings, the crumbled late Victorian, early Edwardian ink adding that special Je ne sais quoi? He thought this was a bit too implausible, but did suggest a possible Brian Potter link which I had failed to make. I will however, apologise to the two retired lady teachers who brew this very popular beer, which seemed to go down very well.
To end, I will again thank Central Manchester CAMRA, particularly Heather, Laurent, Alex, Anne, Gail, Peter, Charming Charmione and Len, along with others whose names I forgot to enter into the memory banks.
Verdict – Top beer fest, wonderful friendly people. Thank you for putting up with me. Thanks for the t-shirt and thanks for the excellent beer.
Gloss. Yorkshire War Cry – HOW MUCH!