The National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester hosts over 300 beers over four days, but you don’t have to be local to enjoy it. I made a two day trip to sample the beers and Manchester’s many real ale pubs and bars, with an afternoon of cultural delight.
It’s free to CAMRA members, the Campaign for Real Ale, who support hundreds of beer festivals across the UK, but otherwise it’s two pounds or a quid for students. I got my half-pint glass and set to sampling, mostly milds, stouts and porters, dark beers varying in strength and flavour. I started at 3.5% abv but gradually moved to a 10.5% finale, though percentage has nothing to do with taste. I tried Brentwood’s BBC 2, a wonderfully hoppy citrus beer that weighs in at only 2.5%!
There was a selection of food and snacks and friendly people open for conversation. It was a lovely afternoon, and we left in the early evening for the Port Street Beer House, a bustling bar with a wide selection of beer styles, leaving me spoiled for choice.
We dubbed the second day cultural day to break up beer sampling. I went shopping at Affleck’s Palace whilst others explored MOSI, the Museum of Science and Industry. There are many museums and galleries to explore, and it makes a nice change of pace to get out and see Manchester.
Lunch was at the Marble Arch, home of the Marble Brewery, who experiment with tasty beers, including Ale Grey IPA, a strong yet refreshing beer. After a final session at the festival we left for Brew Dog, a relatively new branch of the infamous Scottish based brewery. They love to experiment, with beers more like whiskeys, and intriguing titles, such as Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Trashy Blonde, and Punk IPA. Before the night was done, we spent a short time at the quirky sci-fi café, and called it a night to get up the next day and catch our trains home.
I really enjoy beer festivals and supporting quality real ale, and a few days such as this, although intense, are a great way to sample the many different styles and find new and exciting breweries. The Winter Ales Festival moves to Derby next year; I should think I’ll be going.