Pilsen, Czech Republic: the home of golden lager

Hop on a train from Prague for an hour and a half to find yourself in the ancient city of Plzen, or Pilsen in English, the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic. Here stands the Pilsner Urquell brewery, where the world’s first golden lager was brewed in 1842.

Pilsen – once part of the kingdom of Bohemia – is a city with a rich history that spans back to 1295, when it was situated on the trade route between Germany and Prague. Today, the charming city has examples of breathtaking architecture, including the Gothic St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, which stands in one of Europe’s largest squares, Republic Square. In the picturesque historic city centre, many buildings represent the grandiose Baroque style, standing resplendently among the more modern structures.

Pilsen, Czech Republic

Brewing has played an important role in Pilsen’s history and identity. When the city was founded, King Wenceslas II gave permission for its citizens to brew and sell their own beer domestically. One particular incident in 1838, where 36 barrels of spoiled beer were ceremoniously dumped in in front of the City Hall, resulted in the establishment of a citizens’ brewery, Bürger Brauerei. This was eventually renamed Plzeňský Prazdroj – or Pilsner Urquell in English – which roughly translates to ‘the original source at Pilsen’. 

Bavarian master brewer Josef Groll was tasked with the creation of a high quality beer using pale malts. He turned to local ingredients and incorporated Bavarian lager yeast to create a beer that was truly unique. Lager yeast has been used in brewing at least as far back at the 1400s, when lagers were dark – such as dunkels in Germany or tmavé in the Czech Republic – and they likely remained so until the 1840s, when the advancement of kilning technology allowed for the development of pale malts. Groll developed a paler malt than what was available at the time, now known as pilsner malt.

Pilsner Urquell

In addition to the malt, which produced a spectacularly golden beer, Groll also used local Czech Saaz hops, known for their spicy and herbal notes, and Pilsen’s exceptionally soft water, which is low in minerals and salts, to create Pilsner Urquell. This was the original pilsner. The brightness of the beer captivated drinkers worldwide and many lighter styles of beer followed. The beauty of this new golden beer helped popularise the use of glass vessels (Bohemian crystal at the time), a material that was becoming cheaper to produce and perfectly displayed the spectacular clarity of the beer.

Pilsner Urquell Brewery Pilsen

Part of the sweetness that characterises Pilsner Urquell comes from a triple-decoction mashing process, where portions of the mash are heated and boiled separately, and then returned to the mash vessel to gradually heat up the temperature of the main mash. As a result, a rich caramel flavour is developed as more sugars are extracted from the malts and heated by direct flame in copper vessels.

Pilsner Urquell Brewery Bottles

Visiting the brewery, where the methods developed to create Pilsner Urquell in 1842 are still used, provides an insight into how the Czech Republic’s largest brewery maintains tradition while increasing their output to export their beer across the world. Modern practices have been put in place, but are monitored by ‘parallel brewing’, where beer produced on the newer equipment is regularly tested against beer brewed using the original methods, which includes being lagered in oak barrels that rest in Pilsen’s underground tunnel network.

Pilsner Urquell Brewery Pilsen

Seeing the brewhouses, both the original and the sleek modern site, and standing above the brewery’s immense and clanging bottle line is impressive. But the indisputable highpoint of the brewery tour is going into the cellars, where visitors are invited to taste unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell from the lager barrels. No other pilsner comes close to the creamy, sweet and snappy nectar that is poured in these cellars.

Pilsner Urquell Brewery Pilsen

The Pilsner Urquell brewery is located in the centre of the city and easily accessible from the Pilsen train station. Book a tour online in advance, as most will be full on the day – especially the English tours. Given Pilsen’s history, there are plenty of bars that are worth a visit too, including Na Parkanu, where unfiltered Pilsner Urquell is served alongside traditional Czech food.

Yes, there’s something magical about drinking Pilsner Urquell from the source. Often imitated, but never replicated, this beer changed the way that the world drinks. When you sample it in those underground cellars beneath the streets of Pilsen, it’s impossible to not develop a deep appreciation for the original golden lager.

Reykjavík, Iceland: drinking beer in the land of fire and ice

Reykjavík, Iceland, has the distinction of being the most northern capital city on the planet. But in this hyper connected modern world, no city – no matter now remote – exists in isolation. Fast-moving drink and food trends are represented here too, partially driven by the heavy tourist footfall. Thankfully for us, craft beer is no exception.

There’s something intensely charming about Reykjavík, which can mostly be attributed to the people, who are outgoing and possess a bone-dry sense of humour. In the winter, when temperatures can dip to almost -20ºC and there’s only a few hours of hazy sunlight per day, lights are strung up all over the city to combat the encroaching darkness. And if you look around, you’ll spot colourful rows of houses, cheerful even in the bleakest winter months.

The recent emergence of a craft beer culture in Iceland is tied into the country’s drinking history. Prohibition came into force in 1915 and effectively lasted until 1989. The original blanket ban on drinking became entwined with a sanction on beer specifically, as beer was closely associated with Denmark and the Danish way of life – it was therefore seen as unpatriotic for Icelanders to enjoy a pint. The day that the law was changed, the 1st March, is now celebrated annually as Beer Day (Bjordagur).

Today in Reykjavík, after admiring Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland with its striking tower, and discovering Harpa, the city’s modern concert hall with its beautiful glass honeycomb design, you thankfully won’t need to go far to find a bar.

Skuli Craft Bar Reykjavik, Iceland

Skúli Craft Bar

Aðalstræti 9 Reykjavík, Iceland

Cosy, elegant and chic, this bar had a good mix of locals and tourists on our visit. There are 14 taps pouring Icelandic beer; the menu proved intimidating with a jumble of English and Icelandic words, but the bartender was happy to give us his recommendation (when prompted). The space is open, bright and there’s even a dartboard tucked behind the main seating area of the bar. We were content to linger here as the skies opened up and the rain beat down on the city.

Micro Bar Reykjavik, Iceland

Micro Bar

Vesturgata 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

Descending a staircase into the basement of Restaurant Reykjavík will bring you to the dimly lit and cavernous Micro Bar. When we visited, it was mostly populated by English-speaking tourists grazing on beer flights – even a small craft beer tour group – so we pulled up seats at the bar. This is one of Iceland’s oldest craft beer bars and offers a choice of 14 local beers, but we found that the quality of the beer varied greatly; while a gose and a witbier impressed, all of the lagers that we tried missed the mark, serving as a reminder of how nascent the craft beer scene is in the country.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik, Iceland

Mikkeller & Friends

Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

While London has yet to see its Mikkeller bar open, Reykjavík has been home to one since early 2015. Located in one of the oldest buildings in the 101 area, the house once contained the city’s first X-Ray machine. Inside is like a maze, but ascend the stairs (or ask for directions) and you’ll find the bar. On your way up, keep your eyes peeled for an unnamed cocktail bar and DILL Restaurant, which received Iceland’s first Michelin star last year, spread across other floors of the house. Once you find it, the Mikkeller bar is a characterful space with plenty of dark wood features contrasted with bright circus-themed accents. On the chalkboard behind the cramped bar are 20 beers to choose from, which included familiar examples from Mikkeller’s own range and To Øl on our visit. Of all the bars we enjoyed, this was by far the most popular with the locals.

Within eyeshot of our Airbnb, we stumbled upon the makings of a BrewDog, the familiar blue and white crest swinging in the breeze. It was still under construction, but it seems that the demand for craft beer in they city has caught the attention of some big players. The landscape is rapidly changing – there’s still some work to do when it comes to the quality of the beer – but that undoubtedly improve as the industry grows.

Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice, referring to its ever-changing frozen landscape and dynamic volcanoes. As the country learns to embrace beer again and make it their own, there is boundless potential for the coming years of drinking. Craft beer isn’t the only reason that you should visit this magnificent country, of course – but it’s becoming a stronger incentive.

Wellington, New Zealand: Garage Project is crushing it

New Zealand’s Garage Project began life in a rundown petrol station in Wellington’s Aro Valley. They started brewing on a 50 litre kit in 2011, pumping out 40 beers in their first year alone, demonstrating a penchant for experimentation and producing beers with flair.

Garage Project Wellington

Things have shifted gears considerably since 2011 for Jos Ruffell and brothers Pete and Ian Gillespie, seeing their capacity grow and spread over several sites. Across the street from the brewery is their taproom, a bustling hub for local drinkers, and their Marion Street site, the Wild Workshop – where they are delving into the realm of spontaneous fermentation – is a short stroll away. Outside of Wellington, they operate their B-Studio in Hawke’s Bay, a production brewery with state of the art equipment and canning and bottling lines.

Garage Project Wellington

Their Wild Workshop is located in a former print factory, lending ample space for row upon row of wine barrels of their wild, spontaneous and mixed fermentation beers, all relying on native New Zealand cultures. In the attic, there will soon be a coolship, a tray-like open vessel that efficiently cools wort while exposing it to wild bacteria and yeasts. These are traditionally associated with Belgian lambic producers, such as the hallowed Cantillon in Brussels.

Garage Project Wellington

The coolship is an exciting prospect, primarily because if there’s one thing that New Zealand can offer in spades, it’s a thriving unique ecosystem bursting with distinctive native plants and flora. The island country’s physical isolation has resulted in a biological segregation, which means that native yeasts can impart some truly distinct flavour characteristics to beer (as it does to their world-renowned wines).

Yeast aside, New Zealand is already respected for their hop varietals, which includes a number of hops including Motueka, Nelson Sauvin and Wai-iti, all of which are coveted for their richly juicy, tropical notes ranging from lychee to pineapple. These impart aromas and flavours like honeyed apricots, peaches and melon to beers like Garage Project's own Pernicious Weed IIPA.

Garage Project Wellington

In their Wild Workshop, the brewery is also dabbling in natural wines. Their Crushed series is still in its infancy, but they intend to offer drinkers an alternative to the traditional wine styles of New Zealand. In both the aroma and flavour spectrum, these so-called 'wild' wines have a lot in common with wild fermented beers. To ensure that they get the most out of the project, the brewery has produced the 100% brett-fermented wines with the help of Alex Craighead, a stalwart figure in the country’s wine scene.

Garage Project Wellington

The focus on wild beers and wines points towards exciting times ahead for Garage Project. Not ones to play it safe, it also lends them further scope for experimentation. In their Wild Workshop, the hunkering foeders and fermenting beers and wines mark the brewery’s innovative spirit and lofty future ambitions.

As for the beer, the product that started this fruitful journey, they’re still brewing some of the best  in the country and although the volume of wild wines produced remains conservative, there's thankfully plenty of beer to go around.

Thank you to Jack Dougherty for some of the stunning photography featured in this post.

Wellington, New Zealand: A Craft Beer Guide to the real Windy City

Famed for its blustery gales and changeable weather, Wellington, New Zealand, is also lauded as the country’s craft beer capital. Over the past decade, breweries and craft beer bars have popped up in abundance across the city. These have been embraced by locals, expats and a thriving student population.

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital and second largest city. More than 60% of the central city’s population is under 40, according to the 2013 Census, and it has strong connections to the arts, acting as the base for the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts and the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, lending a dynamic and bohemian feel to the city.

The city's creative soul extends to eye-catching street art. Murals and art installations are scattered around the city’s centre, including lively Cuba Street, a bustling pedestrian mall that hosts the city’s iconic Bucket Fountain sculpture. This energy gives the city a pulse that starkly differentiates it from Auckland, New Zealand’s most populated city, located 493 kilometres away.

David Bowie Mural Wellington

In recent years, craft beer has joined the ranks of precious commodities, including their world-renowned wines and exceptional coffee, among the local Kiwi population. It has also become a tourist attraction in its own right. The joy of Wellington is that the central city can be navigated from one side to the other in under 30 minutes, making many of the unmissable venues and breweries easily accessible from one another.

Fork & Brewer 

14 Bond Street, Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Fork & Brewer Wellington

Posed as Wellington’s premier craft beer bar, Fork & Brewer is a microbrewery offering a range of their beers across an impressive 41 taps, with room for guest beers to pour. The immense curving bar takes prominence in the venue, but there are plenty of booths and even outdoor balcony seating to enjoy. The venue is very polished – although touches like quirky utensil-themed keg handles give it plenty of personality– but isn’t unwelcoming. We enjoyed some flavoursome beers bursting with New Zealand hops and even a few refreshing wheat beers.

Fortune Favours

7 Leeds St, Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Fourtune Favours Wellington

Operating out of an old dip stripping factory, Fortunate Favours brews onsite on a 1,000L kit – a remarkable feat when you spot the tight corner where the brewing kit sits. Fermenter vessels are lined up, enclosed behind glass within eyeshot of the bar, and menu boards describe the beers that are pouring or fermenting. The venue is spread across two levels and also offers tempting cheese and meat platters for the peckish. The bar is also located literally a stone’s throw from Golding’s Free Dive.

Golding’s Free Dive Bar

5G / 14 Leeds St , Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Inspired by classic American dive bars, this is a great stop for both their beer selection and for first-rate pizza supplied by local pizzeria, Pizza Pomodoro. Under the neon glow of the ‘BEER’ sign affixed above the door, we were greeted warmly by clued-up staff. Here, we savoured pints from local breweries on a few occasions, even bumping into one of the Garage Project’s founders, Jos Ruffell, during our first visit. If the industry is drinking here, then you can guarantee that the beer served up is both fresh and in pristine condition.

Golding's Dive Bar Wellington

Whether pulling up a stool to the bar or being deft enough to secure a table, the atmosphere in Golding’s is electric and the beers were tasting sublime. It gets busy in the evenings and we struggled to find a seat, but persistence paid off and we were rewarded with pints of Orange Sunshine, a pithy citrus wheat beer from Garage Project, and a hot Don Mimi pizza that quickly dosappeared.

Husk

62 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Husk Wellington

Set down an alleyway adorned with twinkling fairy lights, this craft beer bar and coffee roastery is home to Choice Bros brewery, which is brewed and served up fresh onsite. The styles are modern and experimental, giving patrons a lot of intriguing beers to wade through. With 12 taps, one nitro and two handpulls, they aim to not only appease the beer drinker, but also those with a penchant for natural wines or barrel-aged cocktails.

The food menu is also impressive, serving up bar food with a contemporary – and aesthetically pleasing – touch. Plated beautifully and delighting palates, the chickpea Apocalypse Now burger and haloumi fries were excellent accompaniments to our selection of beer, which included an excellent collaboration with Modern Times Beer, a City of the Wind IPA that was replete with ripe peach and soft mango notes.

Stay tuned for more on The Garage Project next week. Thank you to Jack Dougherty for some of the stunning photography featured in this post.

Indy Man Beer Con 2017: a beer festival going six years strong

The Independent Manchester Beer Convention – often abbreviated to Indy Man Beer Con or IMBC – returned for an impressive sixth year across four days in September and October, 2017. The event is famed for its stunning venue – a majestic Grade II listed Victorian bathhouse – alongside its line-up of eminent breweries from the UK and beyond.

Brainchild of the team that brought you Manchester bars and eateries The Beagle, Common and Port Street Beer House, IMBC is fuelled by an energetic vision; the organisers felt that the UK beer festival format wasn’t capturing the fast-paced, innovative modern craft industry. Even after six years, they’ve managed to keep the festival relevant and representative of what breweries and beer styles people are drinking.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester

This year’s line-up included some world-class participants, from Manchester’s own Cloudwater Brew Co to Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing. Some stalls rotated, serving for two of the four days, while the room sponsor breweries remained for all sessions, which included Beavertown Brewery, Buxton Brewery, Cloudwater, Fourpure Brewing Co, Lervig, Northern Monk Brewing Co, Siren Craft Brew and Wild Beer Co. In addition to the libations was a food village, where vendors also alternated between days.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Bathhouse

The venue is brimming with character, with surprises around each corner and tight spaces built for more slender Victorian frames. Disconcertingly for drinkers, one of the rooms is still used as a swimming pool and, even covered, the floor sloped. The ornate details of tiled floors, terracotta and turquoise brick are found throughout. Located above the swimming pool, lined along the balconies, were changing rooms with candy stripe curtains.

A single pour of beer required one token, costing £2.50 each, and the IMBC app contained each session’s beer list, allowing ticketholders to coordinate their drinking in advance and receive notifications when new beers were put on. The main rooms were bustling, but the adjacent smaller sponsored rooms offered brief respite from the crowds. Although busy, queues for even the most popular breweries moved swiftly, and most attendees were milling about eagerly.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Pizza

Moving on to the beers, we have to mention the popular Buxton and Omnipollo collaborations: first, the Original Texas Pecan Ice Cream, a rich pecan caramel imperial porter brewed with vanilla and lactose sugar, was topped with soft serve, honeycomb pieces and miniature marshmallows. Photogenic and indulgent, even when the novelty pieces with disregarded, the beer was memorable, sticky with waves of rich chocolate and caramel.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Omnipollo

Equally as moreish, but served in a less camera-friendly style, was the Original Maple Truffle Ice Cream Waffle, another robust imperial porter. This time, brewed with maple syrup, cocoa nibs, cassia cinnamon, vanilla and lactose sugar, the beer was a showstopper without any frills. Aromas of rich expresso, chocolate and maple syrup drew us in; intense bittersweet cocoa and maple attacked the palate, finishing dry.

While the imperial porters garnered plenty of excitement from drinkers, other noteworthy beers included The Blend 2017 by The Wild Beer Co, a very drinkable sour, with funk on the nose and a tart, citrus flavour profile with more complex notes detectable, such as hints of fruit like melon and guava. Yet another imperial stout of merit was Hawkshead Brewery’s Sour Cherry Tiramisu, aged in Bourbon barrels, which was bitter, tangy and bursting with tart cherries.

Pennsylvania’s Forest & Main Brewing Company slipped under the radar on a modest stall, obscured by the overflow of drinkers from their neighbour, Cloudwater. Their Lunaire, described as a terroir-driven saison, came recommended and didn’t disappoint – aged in wine barrels for six months, it was pure funk and hay on the nose. Bone-dry and giving hints of white wine on the palate, this was a rounded yet complex beer.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester

There was no shortage of impressive beers showcased at this year’s IMBC, but the saisons, sours and the extravagant imperial porters really impressed. It’s no surprise that this event attracts pilgrimaging groups from London, which is two hours away by train, as the brewery list, friendly atmosphere and the atypical venue come together to make it exceptional.

And with a session completed, the dynamic city of Manchester beckoned, which is worth the trip alone. After session attendees spilled out on the pavement, cabs were hailed and punters naturally headed towards the comfort of the superb Marble Arch, where more beer was paired with chips and gravy and the northern hospitality was enjoyed.

Drinking in Dublin: going beyond the black stuff

Dublin may be a city synonymous with the black stuff, but its emerging craft beer scene is changing the drinking landscape. Even a whistle-stop tour of the city reveals how international styles of beer have captured the imagination of locals and inspired Irish breweries to move into the modern craft sphere.

Dublin Leffe

Tap rooms are popping up in abundance, officially making Dublin a beer destination city. There’s a growing list of exciting Irish breweries that are all worth sampling when bar-hopping in Dublin. This includes Galway Bay Brewing, a brewery with a focus on full-bodied, flavoursome beer. They also operate several bars across Ireland, ideal venues to showcase their range of styles, including a number in the Dublin area. Other Irish breweries making an impression on drinkers are Eight Degrees Brewing from Cork, Sligo’s The White Hag Brewery and Trouble Brewing from Kildare.

When on the hunt for an example of modern Irish brewing, there are a few spots worth the journey for.

L. Mulligan Grocer

18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7

L. Mylligan Grocer Dublin

If you ask anyone for a recommendation for a meal or libations in the city, it’s inevitable that L. Mulligan Grocer will come up. Located in Stoneybatter, a charming up-and-coming neighbourhood Northside of the city in the Dublin 7 postcode, this is walkable from the Guinness St. James's Gate brewery. The hype about the extensive beer selection and superb food is no exaggeration; this pub is a class act.

L. Mulligan Grocer Pub Dublin

The décor and ambiance has the characteristics of a traditional Irish boozer, but some tweaks firmly situate the pub in the 21st century. Visitors sit down and are handed a menu woven into a used book, something that could be deemed obnoxiously hipster-chic, but it just doesn’t feel overegged. This might be down to the highly approachable and down-to-earth staff.

The menu boasts of local ingredients, suppliers and rotating daily specials based on availability. On a late Monday afternoon, tables were available, but many were reserved for evening diners. The menu offered rich seafood chowder, juicy boar burgers, moist chicken Kiev and perfectly golden fried hake. The soda bread and fresh butter – sacred staples in Ireland – are superlative.

L. Mulligan Grocer Dublin Pub Boar Burger

Every dish is paired with a suggested beer on the menu, but we discussed our options with the intensely knowledgeable staff. This is a good opportunity to work through some of the best Irish breweries in one spot – Yellowbelly Beer’s Pale and Interesting and Big River from Eight Degrees Brewing were easy drinking afternoon beers to accompany a long, languid lunch.

An afternoon spent at L. Mulligan Grocer passes timelessly and effortlessly, with daylight snuffed out towards the back of the pub, and the evenings promise to be lively with music advertised.

The Brew Dock

1 Amiens Street Dublin 1

Brew Dock Pub Dublin

The convenient location of this Galway Brewery pub can’t be downplayed. Essentially the first pub within sight of the of a LUAS tram stop outside of Connolly Station, this is a great starting point for any central Dublin drinking. The bottle selection is strong, ranging from local breweries to imported beers, but the real highlight is the wide selection of Galway’s own beers, with core and seasonal choices available.

Familiarising ourselves with Galway, we enjoyed the Full Sail IPA and even the non-beer drinkers were won over by the Subsolar, a dry-hopped farmhouse ale that was dry and tangy with a bitter citrus edge.

Brew Dock Pub Dublin

This pub is spread across two floors with ample tables for their unfussy and tasty menu of pub fare classics. Monday evening was fairly quiet with a select few pulled up to the bar, but staff were pleasant and the modern, unfussy atmosphere was welcoming.

The Porterhouse

16-18 Parliament Street Dublin 2

Porterhouse Pub Temple Bar Dublin

Okay, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when visiting Dublin with a group, a trip into the bustling Temple Bar area – the city’s so-called cultural quarter– might be unavoidable. If you’ve been to Covent Garden in London or New York, you’ll likely be aware of The Porterhouse Brewing Company. Their bars are everything a tourist site should embody, working through a long list of traditional Irish pub clichés. They’re like mazes, spilling across infinite floors, populated by a flow of people who occupy every cook and cranky where a table can be wedged.

Porterhouse Temple Bar Music

Some will delight in the novelty of it all. Entering the Temple Bar site, we were faced with punters providing a soundtrack to the late afternoon from a corner table.

This Porterhouse bar opened in 1996 and was Dublin’s first pub brewery. There's an fascinating history behind the pubs and brewery, founded by cousins Liam LaHart and Oliver Hughes, who had a taste for modern, hoppy beers. The duo began brewing in 1981, opening Harty’s Brewery in County Wicklow, then moved on to importing beer – mostly Belgian and French styles – in 1989 in the first incarnation of The Porterhouse (which wasn't a brewpub). They are referred to as the Godfathers of craft beer in their native Ireland. Even their head brewer, Peter Mosley, is the longest serving craft brewer in the country.  

The Temple Bar location hosts both their own beers and guest beers on tap, seeing the likes of BrewDog's Elvis Juice rubbing shoulders with the Porterhouse range. If you want to dive straight into their beer for a taste, the Plain Porter is an excellent place to start; it was crowned Best Stout in the World at the Brewing Industry International Awards in both 1998 and 2011. Rich with toasted malt, expresso and chocolate, the Plain is still light bodied and served as a smooth nitro pour.

While The Porterhouse Brewing Company is hardly a small operation – they're in the midst of upscaling to a 120 barrel brewery outside of Dublin – it's interesting to sample the beers as they have an important context in Ireland's craft story. 

Admittedly, a single day in Dublin just isn't enough to experience the local evolving craft beer scene in all of it's splendour, but it's getting easier to eke out some of the country's best beers across a few sites. But after whetting your appetite, it's likely that follow-up trip to Dublin to delve in deeper will be warranted.

Drinking in Manchester: great beer up north

It’s no secret that Manchester is home to a thriving craft beer scene. It hosts Indy Man Beer Con, which is now a staple event in the UK beer events calendar, and is home to a list of emerging breweries, including the widely lauded Cloudwater Brew Co.

Yes, Manchester is a bona fide beer destination city. Alongside the new taprooms popping up under railway arches, the city has a long list of exceptional pubs and restaurants to complement the mouth-watering products of its local breweries.

The Marble Arch
73 Rochdale Road, Collyhurst, Manchester, M4 4HY

Marble Arch Inn Manchester

Invariably the first pub to come recommended to any beer drinker headed up north, the Marble Arch boasts Victorian character in abundance and an exceptional beer selection on keg and cask. Built in 1888, it housed Marble Beers until 2011. The pub retains some gorgeous original features, including high ceilings, a frieze and mosaic floor tiling. The most subtle feature is the famous sloping floor, which helpfully slants towards the bar. This is one of Marble’s pubs in the city – an all star line-up that also includes 57 Thomas Street and Marble Beerhouse – but has an ambiance that can’t be rivalled.

Marble Arch Inn Manchester

As you’d expect, staff are talkative, informed and offer a wonderful opportunity to explore Marble’s range if you’re unfamiliar with it. While the pub showcases Marble beers, there’s a guest menu as well. The 20th Anniversary Series beers were tasting fantastic on our visit, including Prime Time, a sessionable kolsch with lime zest. The Dobber, a retired IPA recently resurected with the help of beer writer Matthew Curtis, was available in cans. With a kitchen on site and a wealth of cheeses available, it's tempting to pass an entire afternoon in this welcoming gem. 


Cloudwater Taproom/ Barrel Store
Arch 13, Sheffield Street, Manchester, M1 2ND

Cloudwater Barrel Atore Manchester


Recently crowned the 5th best brewery in the world by Ratebeer.com, it’s no surprise that people pilgrimage to Cloudwater’s taproom in droves. The location is modest, under a railway arch with communal tables set up inside amid rows up rows of wooden barrels lining the walls. Local bread and olives are available to satiate visitors and a rack of t-shirts and other merchandise are on display. The bar is equally as unpretentious as the space, a sole counter with a swiftly rotating chalkboard menu to order from. This is part of the Piccadilly Beer Mile, which includes five stops: Track Brewing Company, Alphabet Brewing Company, Beer Merchants, Chorlton Brewing Company and Squawk Brewing Company.

Cloudwater Barrel Store Manchester

The beer flowing from the taps is tantalisingly fresh. On our visit, the Cloudwater and Other Half Brewing Company collaboration, Tremendous Ideas, proved popular. This juicy and complex Imperial IPA contains 50% oats, is hopped with Citra, Huell Melon, Vic Secret and fermented with both US and Manchester yeasts. It was bursting with orange, mango and melon, all complemented by a understated bitterness.

Alphabet Brewing Co
99 North Western Street, Manchester M12 6JL

Alphabet Brewing Co Manchester

Continuing along the Piccadilly Beer Mile, the Alphabet taproom is spacious and doubles as a foodie destination every Saturday. Food trucks are parked outside while inside, a DJ provides an afternoon soundtrack and beers are served up. The colourful and highly recognisable artwork of Manchester based illustrator, Nick Hamilton (aka The Hammo), which also adorns Alphabet's cans, helps brighten up the space.

Alphabet Brewing Co Manchester

Juice Springsteen, a tropical IPA, was thirst-quenching on a humid summer's afternoon, packing fruit salad aromas and a crisp finish . A to the K, their oatmeal pale ale, was equally as refreshing in the heat with a nice creamy body imparted from the oats.

The atmosphere here is easy-going and accommodates large groups. There were two options for food on our visit, including some moreish pies and some Indonesian fare, and the live music made it a no-brainer site for an extended stay.

Beer Merchants
75 North Western Street, Manchester M12 6DY

Cave Direct Manchester

Moving along, adjacent to Alphabet is Beer Merchant's Manchester site. The beer distributors, who trade online as Cave Direct, offer up a range of drinks in their taproom and also host tap takeover events. Ample tables are lined up in two rows and the varied selection guarantees that palates won't tire. Even as the afternoon wore on and the evening creeped in, the ambiance remained relaxed and we enjoyed the selection of Tiny Rebel Brewing Company's beers that were featured that day until the need for food beckoned.

Yes, this only scratches the surface of what Manchester has to offer. We found that the Track taproom isn't open every Saturday (including on our visit) and sadly didn't have the time to visit Chorlton Brewing Company. But no matter where you end up drinking, be sure to squeeze in a visit to the legendary Bundobust, where you can fill your boots with vegetarian Indian street food and where the beer list just as noteworthy as the food.

Quidi Vidi, Newfoundland: a brewery with a view

Picturesque Quidi Vidi in St. John's, Newfoundland is a surprising location for the province's largest craft brewery. Against the backdrop of a historic fishing village, Quidi Vidi Brewing Company has been turning out beer since 1996 and today accounts for 2% of total beer sales on the island.

Quidi Vidi Brewery

The brewery rose from the ashes of a former cod processing plant, which stood on the site from 1960-1992, when it was closed following a moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery. The location plays a pivotal role to the brewery, where visitors are regaled with not only a history of the beer, but of the surrounding area. When Quidi Vidi opened its doors, founders David Fong and David Rees aimed to not only compete for a share of the market predominately controlled by Molson Coors and Labatt in Newfoundland, but to brew an exceptional range for the locals. They initially set out to reproduce a light beer that could surpass the quality of what was available on the market; Newfoundlanders, or Newfies, prefer sessionable styles in particular. Light beers make up 60% of sales in the province.

They launched Quidi Vidi Light, a 4% American style lager, as a gateway beer - one to convince and entice drinkers to shift their brand allegiances and drink from a local brewery. This crisp lager did the trick and now accounts for more than ten million dozen beers per year per capita in Newfoundland.

Quidi Vidi Iceberg

Their most intriguing offering is Iceberg Beer, a lager brewed with twenty thousand year old water from icebergs. The brewery has an iceberg harvester contracted to extract iceberg water, a dangerous process involving cranes and grappling hooks. An unfortunate effect of climate change means that Iceberg Alley, a colloquial term used for the ecozone that stretches from Greenland to Newfoundland, is replete with icebergs traversing the waters. Some have been visible from St John's harbour, according to the locals.

Iceberg Beer makes up 25% of the brewery's sales and its clean taste shouldn't really astonish - iceberg water contains virtually no impurities. In addition to this, the beer is bottled in a stunning electric blue vessel which has proved equally as popular as the beer. The brewery quickly began to run out of the bottles because they were being used for arts and crafts across the province, from makeshift vases to beach glass. To coerce the public to return them for recycling, the brewery offered them 20 cents per bottle, increased from the usual 15 cents offered .

The 1892 was their first beer, named after the year of The Great Fire of 1892, which was the worst disaster to befall St John's and said to have caused $13 million dollars worth of damage in the day's currency. A traditional ale, the beer is characterised by malt sweetness with some chewy caramel notes and nuttiness. It offers a departure from the lagers that the brewery focusses on.

If you needed further evidence of how Quidi Vidi successfully resonates with their local clientele, one must only consider the below poster, which was used to advertise their Eric's Red Ale. After being pitched inane ideas by a big city agency involving women in bikinis in the freezing waters of the Atlantic ocean, the brewery took their own approach - and it was intended to give fellow Newfoundlanders something to talk about.

Quidi Vidi Brewery

Despite the hospitality offered in spades at the brewery itself, its founders are reported to no longer be on speaking terms following a messy court battle over misappropriation of funds. There's no sign of anything amiss to visitors, but the future of the brewery is uncertain. Given its market share in the province, it's potentially an easy target for Big Beer.

Until then, the popular kitchen parties will continue and Newfie culture will be entrenched in the brewery and the beer; no matter what happens down the line, this local focus will hopefully continue, as it's been the key to the brewery's success.

Halifax, Nova Scotia: 2 Crows brewing up some joy

Since visiting Nova Scotia last summer, there's been a notable addition to the Halifax craft brewing scene. The brewery, 2 Crows Brewing Co., opened in January of this year and has already found itself stocked in Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) stores across the province. This means that their bold, flavoursome beers are readily available to all, pouring at taprooms and stacked in kitchen fridges. 

2 Crows Brewing Halifax Nova Scotia

2 Crows was co-founded by married couple Kelly and Mark Huizink and Jeremy Taylor, head brewer. They were set on developing a range of off-kilter beers with a focus on Belgian styles with a modern twist. Taylor has a background in biochemistry and only recently uprooted and trekked across the country, moving from British Columbia to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He's fiercely optimistic about the local brewing industry and emphasised that they’ve been very fortunate to be welcomed so warmly; their beers were stocked almost immediately in nearby taprooms, such as Stillwell in Halifax and Battery Park in Dartmouth. In return, they also champion other local breweries (and cideries) on their menu, including Tidehouse Brewing Company and North Brewing Company.

Their presence in the NSLC is particularly significant because of how alcohol is controlled in the province. Unlike the UK, all alcoholic beverages in Nova Scotia are solely distributed by a single entity, the NSLC. Currently, there are only four privately owned and independent wine specialty shops to counter this monopoly, making 2 Crows' relationship with the corporation invaluable in terms of shifting stock. However, there's a maelstrom of controversy about how the NSLC operates and their relationship with the craft beer industry in general that makes for some interesting reading.  

The 2 Crows core beers include Pollyanna, a juicy and hazy wild Northeast IPA, the Liesse, a clean and bright table beer, and Pecadillo, a pilsner made with oats. Their seasonals and small batch beers are bold – such as Angel Eyes, a brett pale ale and In the Dry, dry-hopped sour – and demonstrative of just how quickly breweries are growing up in the province and customers’ palates are maturing.

2 Crows Brewing Halifax Nova Scotia

The taproom and brewhouse are located downtown, just around the corner from the city’s fortification, Halifax Citadel on Citadel Hill. It’s a sleek, spacious site that sees the brewery separated only by police line tape to remind visitors to not cross beyond the serving area. Punters can grab a beer and be backseat drivers to the brewing process, surveilling all from the comfort of their bar stool. There are benches to pull up to the bar, tables for groups and an outside patio to make the best of Halifax’s fickle weather.

The taproom is bright – natural light streaming in courtesy of large two-storey windows, with splashes of colour and character throughout. The staff were passionate about the range of beer, taking time to talk tourists through the different styles represented on the board. One explained that onsite training was thorough and continuous. Their beer allowance is generous and staff are encouraged to bring beer to gatherings, as word of mouth is perhaps the most effective form of marketing (and people will always ask about the complimentary beer that they're enjoying).

It was apparent that people were already drinking 2 Crows with gusto. At the end of June, they had no Pollyanna available on keg in the taproom and cans were flying out of the fridge. Because this beer was popping up on menus across Halifax, from harbourfront tourist hotspots to the city’s famed outdoor drinking patios, and with its availability both in bars and through the liquor stores, Pollyanna is already enjoying staple status. We discovered cans in venues across the city and were grateful – the huge tropical juicy hit in this smooth beer made it a sensational summer sipper.

The Fantacity also impressed, a ridiculously drinkable wheat beer with big orange and lemon citrus flavours paired with a hint of coriander. The Angel Eyes was also a hugely interesting beer with a balance of juicy and funky notes and the Midnight Porter was deliciously dank and smooth.

2 Crows Brewing Halifax Nova Scotia

The energy of the team at 2 Crows was palpable, from the staff at the taproom to their head brewer. When speaking of the brewery around town, others in the industry were quick to express their admiration for their adventurous spirit. The most impressive is perhaps to come, however: the brewery has invested in foeders, 65-year-old calvados barrels, and believe that they are the only brewery in North America to have these. With time, their barrel-aged projects will undoubtedly continue to galvanise excitement in both taprooms and patrons alike.

Finally, the origin of the brewery's name? Well, it comes from a well-known nursery rhyme that is more commonly associated with magpies in the UK:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy [...]

We also know that crows are clever – and as it transpires, so is their beer.

Drinking in Margate and Broadstairs: seafront views, beer and quirky spaces

If you’re headed to Margate or Broadstairs for a seaside getaway, rest assured that you can find both craft and local beer to partner with your fish and chips. Most of these watering holes are within eyeshot of the water, making it easy to drink while taking in the scenery of these charming seafront towns.

The Bottle Shop Margate

7-8 Marine Drive, Margate, Kent, CT9 1DH

Bottle Shop Margate

The Bottle Shop Margate has only been open for a year, but it's already drawing in steady crowds. It might be the casual atmosphere. Or it might be the ease at which customers can breeze in and out between the two doors ajar on either side of the bar, letting invigorating sea air waft inside. It could also be the intensely friendly staff who apologise for a wait that wouldn’t make a Londoner blink twice. All of these elements make this Bottle Shop location an inviting venue. It's spread across two levels – the main bar is located on the upper and the lower level features plenty of seating and fridges for takeaway bottles. It’s perhaps cosy by London standards, but it felt much more spacious compared to some of Margate's other bars.

Bottle Shop Margate

The beer selection was excellent across ten taps, including both UK and International breweries. The offerings included the luscious Noa Pecan Mud Cake imperial stout from Swedish mavericks Omnipollo and Cloudwater Brew Co’s NW DIPA Citra alongside Dugges' juicy Mango Mango Mango IPA and Gipsy Hill Brewing Company’s Hepcat. Cocktails were also in demand – they’ve got gin and tonic on tap – and customers can bring their own food to eat on the premises, or even get a 10% discount at the popular GB Pizza just down the street.

It must be reiterated that the location here can’t be beat, sitting right in the centre of the Old Town with a charming view of the nearby harbour.

Fez

40 High St, Margate CT9

Fez Margate

There’s one word that immediately springs to mind when trying to describe Fez, a micropub only feet away from The Bottle Shop: eclectic. This tiny pub is adorned with kitsch and knickknacks galore, giving it the ambiance of a mismatched, almost deranged, carnival. There are tables and benches integrated into the quirky décor and – perhaps my favourite touch – a traffic light triggered by the locking of the single toilet’s door, flicking red when occupied and green when vacant.

Fez Pub Margate

Beer and ciders are in cask and priced very reasonably; both of the blonde ales that we tried went down easily. Drinks are rung through on an antique cash register (kerching!), which is the type of embellishment that you can’t help but smile at. The staff were just as idiosyncratic as the setting. Fez does get rammed and we found that they stopped serving at 10:30pm on a Friday night, so be warned.

The Lifeboat Ale and Cider House and The Chapel (Broadstairs)

The Lifeboat: 1 Market St, Margate CT9 1EU

The Chapel: 44 Albion St, Broadstairs CT10 1NE

The Chapel Broadstairs

Two pubs, one owner: The Lifeboat is located in Margate and The Chapel in nearby Broadstairs. The former has been an institution, one of the first micro brewpubs that opened in the town back in 2010. Located in the Old Town, it was revered for its selection of Kent ales and cider across a small, functional layout. The latter is a more offbeat space, a converted chapel – as the name would suggest – and brimming with books over two floors. Both pubs have recently become sponsored by BrewDog, meaning that they offer a wide selection of BrewDog beers on site in addition to rotating taps for other UK breweries on keg, with a range of cask and cider still available.

While The Lifeboat is conveniently located, it was heaving on our visit, and we much preferred the tranquil and cloister-like atmosphere of The Chapel, which was conveniently close to our Airbnb. The owner of both establishments, Julian Newick, was on hand at The Chapel during two of our visits, urging visitors to the area to indulge in a traditional ale. Crowds were small, staff were very talkative and we took great pleasure in soaking in this unusual space. We indulged in the guest beers – Neck Oil from Beavertown Brewery and Pogo from Wild Beer Co – and found ourselves lingering until close one night, entertained by a fumbled display of card tricks by a inebriated local.

If you have the time, The Chapel is dfeinitely worth the quick bus ride over to Broadstairs from Margate.

The Thirty-Nine Steps Brewhouse

11-13 Charlotte Street, Broadstairs CT10 1LR

The 39 Steps Broadstairs

This freshly renovated pub will soon be a microbrewery, but there wasn't much to see here on our visit. There is an empty room where a brewery should be and we were assured that they would soon be operational; given the location, only a few minutes wander from the harbour in Broadstairs, The Thirty-Nine Stairs Brewhouse could potentially be worth the trip. It’s a pristine, modern set-up with both cask and keg represented and we spotted some lines hidden behind the bar where Mikkeller appeared to be on, but we didn’t stay long enough to verify this.

Fish and Chips Margate

This is a mere whistle-stop tour of two beautiful spots in Kent and there are plenty of altermative venues where a good cider or ale can be sourced. However, on a tight schedule, the above can’t be missed for a top-notch tipple to enjoy against the stunning scenic backdrop and surroundings of both Margate and Broadstairs.