UK Brewery Tours Winter Sessions: A festive journey through the history of lager

It was a really busy end of 2019 for me – work and various other commitments (including plenty of fun social activities) took over, so that’s why this blog is a little later than I originally planned! I know that I was due to write about Salford Beer Festival and Dark and Wild City which I also attended towards the end of last year, both of which were most enjoyable for very different reasons. But I’m not going to do that – instead I’m going to write about a UK Brewery Tours event I went to at the end of November – “a festive journey through the history of lager.”

Lager shot

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, in my spare time I work as a Tour Guide for UK Brewery Tours in Manchester, along with a great bunch of local beer lovers, sommeliers and home brewers. We decided that we’d like to try out some new, unique tours, focusing on specific styles of beer, and the first of those was “a festive journey through the history of lager” with our knowledgeable lager-loving guide Andrew.

The event was held at Manchester Union Brewery – a specialist lager brewery which we also visit on our Microbrewery Experience Tour. They usually only open their taproom once a month, so they kindly opened up the brewery especially for the lager tour. When we arrived we went straight to the bar and ordered Manchester Union’s own red lager, which they have only brewed very recently and tastes fantastic. We arrived a bit early so chatted with Andrew and Sarah (another guide and coordinator of the Manchester tours) while they got the tables ready with bottles of the selected lagers for the table and an amazing spread of cheeses from The Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury, as well as plenty of bread and crackers.

Cheese

When all the guests had arrived, we got started. The first beer we tried was Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel, a 5% lager from Bavaria. We shared the bottles on our table and tried the beer with the different cheeses to decide which worked best – an award-winning Cornish kern, a goat’s cheese, a gruyere and a smoked Lancashire cheese. It was good to be able to try every cheese with each beer, rather than them being specifically paired, as everyone’s taste buds are different and it was rare on our table for us all to agree on which worked best. We did mostly agree on the dark, malty Ayinger though, which we all thought paired amazingly with the smoked cheese. The smokiness of the cheese would probably of been too much with some of the more delicate lagers we tried during the tour, however it worked perfectly with the Dunkel.

While we were drinking and sampling the various cheeses, Andrew talked us through the history of lager and gave us the background to each beer. I found out that he also bakes in his spare time and he had made the most delicious salty pretzels that went down far too easily with the cheese and lager. The most interesting beer I had during the tour was the Spaten Aus Munchen Oktoberfestbier, a strong lager which worked well with the Gruyere cheese, however my boyfriend preferred the Rothaus Pils paired with the goat’s cheese.

Ayinger

Overall the event was really fun and I feel quite inspired to arrange my own cheese and beer event for my friends now to learn more about who likes what. I wish I could remember some more of the information and stories Andrew shared with us about the history of lager, as it was really interesting and completely new to me, but after plenty of lager and A LOT of cheese I really don’t think I could do it justice here! I hope we can do more of these events as it was really nice to meet a lot of new people and bond over something as simple and delicious as cheese and lager. Oh and if not for anything else, I need to have one of Andrew’s pretzels again!

We are looking to arrange more sessions focused on specific beer styles and I will hopefully be doing my very own tour at some point this year all about sour beers. Watch this space!

I’ve ended up posting this blog a lot later than I had originally planned, so this plea is coming a bit late but is still very important. It’s January and a lot of pubs and other independent businesses really struggle during this time of year. It’s more important than ever to support your local businesses because at the end of the day, if we don’t use them regularly, then sadly they won’t be around for much longer and our local areas will be much sadder places for it. We all like to use the New Year as a good excuse to make positive changes, but instead of giving things up completely why not try out some new places as well? Look out for events in your local area, visit that food and crafts market you’ve been meaning to for a while, support your local cheese shop, bottle shop, grocery etc. and make a visit to your local pubs (even if you aren’t drinking this month, most offer great alcohol free options and other things to get involved in). Tryanuary was launched in 2015 to champion local beer at a difficult time of year and it’s a great thing to get involved in: https://www.tryanuary.com/. Please do, if you can. And not just this month either – it’s vital to support local businesses if we want them to stick around. My partner and I supported Grub’s kickstarter campaign earlier this week (if you are Manchester-based and haven’t heard of Grub then you must go, it’s a fantastic place in the Green Quarter to enjoy amazing street food and beer, including great veggie and vegan options) and now we will be lucky enough to take part in a Brew Day at Runaway Brewery in April. I’m sure that will make a great future blog post, but in the meantime, if you’d like to support Grub you can do so here: kickstarter.com/projects/grubmcr/grub-not-just-a-street-food-market.

Zwanze Day 2018 at The Pilcrow, Manchester

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Zwanze Day at The Pilcrow Poster

Sticking with the Belgian theme for just one more blog post, I am going to write about Cantillon Zwanze Day which took place at my local Manchester pub, The Pilcrow, on Saturday 29 September. The Zwanze series from Cantillon Brewery (Brussels, Belgium) began in 2008 with the release of a special lambic beer with added rhubarb. Ever since then, Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy has used the series, and the celebration days organised around it, to bring lovers of lambic beers together around the world. Now ten years in to the series, this was my first ever Zwanze day and seeing as it was at our local and favourite Manchester pub, we couldn’t resist getting tickets.

 

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Garage, Silver Peel

The event began at 12.00pm on the Saturday, however as we had friends visiting that day we didn’t arrive at The Pilcrow until around 6.00pm. The Zwanze was not pouring until 8.00pm, so this gave us plenty of time to try out the rest of the lambic-inspired beers on offer that day. The Pilcrow still has it’s large yellow tent up outside the pub, which has been used for many events during the summer months, and the majority of the beers were being served from inside the tent. You needed to buy tokens from the bar if you wanted beers from outside (£2.50 per token), so we got a few each to begin with. Cantillon beers were two tokens each (I imagine because of the costs to bring the beer to the UK) but all the other beers were one token. I started off with the Cantillon Iris, a traditional lambic which is dry and tart, with a slight floral taste. It was delicious and I was pleased that I had the chance to try it as it had not been available when we visited the brewery itself back in July. I followed this with a Oude Kriek Boon, as I love the Kriek style so always take the opportunity to have one when I can.

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Wylam, Fruits of Perception

As well as a large selection of Cantillon brews, there were also lots of sour and lambic-inspired beers from a range of UK brewers. The Wild Beer Co had plenty on offer, many of which were very intriguing such as their Rosa Rouge Saison which was really well balanced and had a nice level of tartness to it. We also tried their Sourdough Berliner Weisse which we were pleasantly surprised by, as although we were keen to try it, we weren’t convinced it would work. It was actually quite light and refreshing. We were expecting it to have a stronger bread taste, but the fact it didn’t is probably a good thing. Personal favourites from the non-Cantillon beers we tried were Silver Peel, a sour Berliner Weisse from Garage Beer Co from Barcelona (really light, fragrant but very sour. Definitely packs a punch!) and Fruits of Perception by Wylam from Newcastle, UK which I found to be quite unique compared to other sours I’ve had (I also couldn’t quite place the fruit, but possibly apricot – very nice). I know that sour beers are not for everyone, but for sour lovers like me, this event was a brilliant opportunity to try lots of interesting and harder-to-come-by styles.

IMG_3075As it approached 8.00pm, we joined the queue to receive our Cantillon Zwanze 2018. While we waited we had a good chat with a few lambic-enthusiasts who had only just returned from visiting the brewery in Brussels. They also told us about how you can only purchase a certain amount of bottles of Cantillon beer from the brewery every year (something we didn’t know) and apparently they have a way of tracking past purchases on your card so they know if you’ve already reached your limit for that year. We also saw two men with two wristbands each (you had to exchange your tickets for a wristband when you arrived). They must have been very keen to try this years Zwanze!

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Zwanze 2018 lambic and glass

Once we received our Zwanze, it was worth the wait. This years version was a blend of two year old lambic matured in first use italian wine barrels. It was really tart and so flavourful. You could definitely taste the wine and the time it spent maturing in the barrels. We received a third measure and sadly we got through ours way too quickly – we definitely could have had more if we’d had the chance to. There is definitely a level of excitement to having a beer you know you will never have again though. As much as I value having my ‘go-to’ beers that I’ll come back to time and time again, it’s a special experience to have something that has taken so much time and effort and you will never have again. And I guess there’s always next year?

I had never heard of Zwanze day before this year and I’m glad that The Pilcrow got the chance to host it, as it’s a really fantastic little pub. Over the next few weeks/months I’ll be writing about loads more local events – the next one being Indyman Beer Con 2018, which I’ll be attending tonight. Perhaps see you there?