By Connor Murphy, Manchester Beer Week organiser
Standing alone at the entrance to the darkened, desolate Workshop space at Old Granada Studios the morning after Manchester Beer Week’s closing party, a wave of emotion crashed down upon me.
Looking into the empty space felt like staring into an endless void – such was the contrast with the previous day’s festivities – and it became difficult to swallow the growing lump in my throat.
The party was over and Manchester’s first city-wide beer festival was consigned to history. All that remained was a worn poster clinging stubbornly to the doorway, a handful of errant programmes scattered across the welcome desk and splashes of beer being slowly absorbed by the concrete floor.
But the emotion didn’t originate from a desire to do it all over again – as an organiser it’s near impossible to fully enjoy any event you’re responsible for – rather they came from an overwhelming pride in the Mancunian spirit.
For 10 days, the people of this city, both native and adopted, threw themselves wholeheartedly into an unknown and unproven festival, supporting all manner of events at pubs, bars, restaurants and breweries across Greater Manchester.
And the closing party encapsulated this better than any other event. Young, old, families, friends, ale lovers, craft beer geeks, intrigued bystanders and even furry friends of the four-legged kind – they all came together to enjoy an afternoon of carefree celebration.
Manchester might be famous for its ingrained cynicism, but its people took the festival to their hearts in a big way, expressing a simple, uncomplicated love for the city’s favourite drink, for its pubs and for one another.
For that, I will be eternally grateful.
Manchester Beer Week was established largely through a desire to unify the city’s beer scene and break down the unnecessary Chinese walls between different factions within that scene. Reflecting on the first year, it feels as if strong progress has already been made towards that goal.
Some critical observers may initially have questioned JW Lees’ key role in the festival but Manchester’s oldest family brewer embraced its ethos with enthusiasm and an open mind, quickly dispelling any doubts.
Their collaboration with Cloudwater for the official festival beer would have been unthinkable just six months ago, such was the gap between the two organisations in terms of size, style and approach.
And although the process was not without its challenges, the final product possessed genuine symbolic importance. Regardless of your opinion about MCR Fold, it represented an exciting step into the unknown and, incredibly, JW Lees head brewer Michael Lees-Jones was even heard to remark ‘we didn’t go far enough’.
The hope is that this experiment will help to open new pathways between traditional brewing and modern ‘craft beer’, extending the hand of friendship across typical boundaries to develop a more collaborative Mancunian beer scene.
On top of this, the strong support provided by CAMRA and the wide variety of people who attended events proved it is possible to unite folk from different walks under one common cause – a love of good beer.
Putting aside personal preference on matters such as beer style or dispense method, much more can be achieved by working together to raise awareness of the outstanding work being done by hardworking, passionate producers, both on our doorstep and across the country.
The most exciting thing is we’ve only scratched the surface.
On the day of Manchester Beer Week’s closing party, three other major events were running simultaneously across the city – the Blackjack Brewtap, GRUB’s food fair at Runaway Brewery and the FC United Beer Festival – and all were swelled by large numbers of happy revellers.
There has barely been a more exciting time for beer in this city. It’s up to us to grasp this opportunity.