Why I love being a UK Brewery Tours Guide

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Me with Sarah (another guide) and some recent guests at Track Brewery

I’ve accidentally had another hiatus from blogging which is a real shame because I’ve been to some great beer festivals and attended some really special experiences over the last few months. One of the reasons I’ve been off the blog lately is that my partner and I are in the process of buying a house in Levenshulme, Manchester and I’ve been busy dealing with estate agents, solicitors and various other professions previously unknown to me. Another key reason is that I’ve been busy balancing my full-time job with a part-time role as a Tour Guide for UK Brewery Tours – a company that offers tours and brewery experiences across the UK. I thought for my first blog in a while, I’d talk about this experience and why I’ve been enjoying it so much.

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Steve working his magic at Beer Nouveau

I started as a guide back in August and initially only did a couple of tours, but then took on a few more in the run up to Christmas and am now doing roughly two a month. There are two tours available in Manchester – the Manchester Microbrewery Experience tour which takes guests around three breweries and the Manchester Beer Tasting Tour where guests are taken on a tutored tasting in a few of the local breweries. So far I have only guided the Experience tour, however I will be doing a few tasting tours soon. UK Brewery Tours also provides the option for you to book private tours for smaller groups and I’ve also guided a few of these.

The Experience tour meets upstairs at Piccadilly Tap near Manchester Piccadilly Train Station and once all the guests have arrived the guides take them on the 20 minute walk to the first brewery stop, Beer Nouveau. The Experience tour usually has two guides as we have groups of up to 25 people, however the tasting tours and private tours usually only have one guide as the groups are smaller. At the first stop, Steve Dunkley, the experienced brewer and beer historian at Beer Nouveau does a very detailed tour where guests get to try at least three different beers, as well as a variety of malts. They also get to feel and smell a few different variety of hops. Steve’s talk is always really popular with the guests and by the time we leave Beer Nouveau, they are all chatting and having a laugh with one another. Most people on the tour have been bought it as a present so you tend to get many smaller groups of 2/3 people booking on. Sons buying it as a present for their dad, plenty of couples, as well as groups of friends looking for a good time.

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Inside Alphabet Brewery

The next stop on the tour is Alphabet Brewery which is a short 5 minute walk from Beer Nouveau. Alex at Alphabet takes the guests on a short tour of the equipment while we present them with their first beer. The guests get two halves at Alphabet and we try and vary it up so they are trying a wide variety of different beers. For example, on my last tour I got them the Small Packages Table Beer, which at 2.8% was nice and light after some of the stronger beers they’d had at Beer Nouveau (including an outstanding stock ale!). I then followed this up with the Juice Springsteen Tropical IPA for something slightly different and packed full of juicy flavours.

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Alex (another guide) and a group of guests at Alphabet Brewery

The final stop on the tour is Track Brewery, which recently opened its new tap room at the top of an apartment building. We always try and remember to warn the guests beforehand as there are quite a few steps up to the tap room! It’s worth it when you arrive at the top though – a warm and welcoming space with plenty of benches and a ping pong table. We always finish by giving the guests Track’s most well known beer, Sonoma (a 3.8% pale ale). You can’t really go wrong with a Sonoma and it nearly always goes down well. This is where the tour officially ends but we always try and stick around for a bit in case any of the guests have questions or want any recommendations. We usually try and point out Cloudwater on the way to Track too because many people are keen to go on there afterwards and experience whats been named the second best brewery in the world.

What I love most about doing the brewery tours is meeting such an amazing array of people. I love working with my fellow guides who are all lovely people, passionate about beer. I also love the guests who for the most part seem to really enjoy the tour and like getting to know us along the way. I’ve even made friends with a few people off the tour and met up with them afterwards. If I could do this full time then I would! As well as being a passionate beer lover, the other thing I love about the industry is how friendly and supportive everyone is. It really does make it all worth it.

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A happy bunch of guests at the end of the tour (this one is taken at Track’s old tap)

If you haven’t already been on a UK Brewery Tour then you should definitely give it a go. Tours are available in many different cities with others being added all the time. And you never know, if you join the Manchester tour you might be guided by me – if you do then I look forward to meeting you!

 

 

Beer crawl on a sunny Saturday

Last Saturday my boyfriend and I decided to take advantage of the rare glimmer of sunshine and embark on one of our favourite activities – a beer crawl! This felt slightly indulgent for me as I’d already taken my friend on an extensive brewery crawl a few weeks ago (see previous blog), however it was a perfect day for it and loads of our local bars and breweries seemed to have special events on that we didn’t want to miss.

To line our stomachs for an inevitable day of drinking, we stopped off Idle Hands – a coffee shop that we had previously enjoyed during one of their visits to the Grub Food Fair last summer, but has now secured its own premises on Dale Street. It’s a really lovely space – light and spacious, with the most friendly staff. The food menu was great too. I had Turkish Eggs, which was one of the most pretty and delicious brunches I’d had for a while. The coffee was outstanding too. There were two blends available that day and I opted for the San Francisco in an iced latte, which helped to gear me up for the rest of the day.

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The most amazing Turkish eggs

This sunny Saturday was also Record Store Day and although we did plan to peruse a few record stores, we were most excited by the special RSD beer – a collaboration between Cloudwater, Piccadilly Records, Common and Port Street Beer House. We headed over to Common where we purchased two cans, which did not disappoint. A DDH Pale, full of flavour and brewed with Centennial, Enigma and Chinook hops. Delicious.

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Record Store Day DDH Pale

We then walked up to one of our favourite stops on the Manchester brewery strip – Beer Nouveau. We had the place to ourselves for a while, so had a great chat with owner and founder Steve Dunkley, who was as welcoming as ever and let us try lots of different beers, as well as a barley wine. I was fortunate to be able to try Steve’s Peach Bonnet witbier, one of the last bottles left of the batch. I absolutely loved this beer. One of the most interesting things I have tasted for quite some time. Peachy and refreshing to start with and then followed by a subtle kick at the end. Well, the heat of this beer may not be subtle for some, but I do like my spice.

As it started filling up in Beer Nouveau, we moved on to our next stop – Wander Beyond Brewing – who were open for a special event to launch four new beers. The space was really nice and there was a great atmosphere. I decided to have the Illicium Imperial Milkshake IPA, but just a third as it’s very strong at 10%. I’d had the other beers in Wander Beyond’s Milkshake range before and really enjoyed them, so I was intrigued to try this new version. It was so smooth and drinkable – I could have easily had a pint of it but I don’t think I would have been feeling so fresh afterwards. My boyfriend was more sensible and chose the Graviton Session IPA, which had tropical notes but was also quite different to other IPAs. We decided to move on at that point and get some snacks, but I am really looking forward to trying the other two new beers soon.

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Imperial Milkshake IPA and the full menu!

Last but not least we stopped off at our local, The Pilcrow, on our way home. The Pilcrow is one of our favourite pubs in Manchester and definitely the one we frequent the most (it being very local to us). A Burning Sky Brewery Takeover was taking place on Saturday which we were keen to check out. I can’t remember the names of the beers we had unfortunately but we both opted for saisons, which were delightful and perfect for the weather that day. The Pilcrow has regular tap takeovers, but for some reason the timings don’t usually work for us, so it was great to be able to finally get to one and support a brewery that we have been following for a while.

After that we headed home. We still had some treats at home which I’d bought on my last trip to the Cloudwater Barrel Store. We’d been saving a special edition Cloudwater bottle, a collaboration with Coswut, a home-brewer and beer lover (who I’ve since heard, has sadly passed away). A brettanomyces bruxellensis fermented sour (bit of a mouthful) which was fermented in French white wine barrels for 13 months. We really enjoyed this beautiful beer – the kind that should be savoured and drank slowly like a wine. We finished the evening by sharing a can of Cloudwater and Half Acre (from Chicago, Illinois) Triple IPA. We’d already shared a can of this a few weeks before and loved it, although it is very strong so not sure I could handle a whole can to myself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading more about my beer adventures in Manchester. As well as longer reads like this, I’m also planning to start doing some shorter “beer haul” pieces where I share my thoughts on the latest treats I’ve picked up from my local bottle shops and breweries.

Manchester Brewery Crawl

I recently took my friend Sara on a crawl around some of the finest breweries Manchester has to offer. I decided that this time we would focus on the main brewery area around the archways just behind Piccadilly station. This meant that unfortunately we missed out on one of my favourite Manchester breweries – Runaway – but I also wanted to make sure we didn’t do too much in one day. Oh well, there’s always next time!

Sara is fairly new to beer. She has always liked it but admits that she doesn’t know much about it and often finds it tricky to know what to order. Before arranging our brewery crawl, we had a good chat about what she does and doesn’t like in a beer and came to the conclusion that she likes dark beers (stouts and porters, as well as dark red ales) and IPAs. She is not so keen on pale ales and beers that are slightly less carbonated.

With all this in mind, we set off. The first stop on our trip was Beer Nouveau on North Western Street, owned and founded by Steve Dunkley, who greeted us as we arrived. Sara decided she wanted a darker beer to begin with and Steve kindly gave her about four different beers to try before she opted for a Chocolate Porter. I chose a Summer Ale which was absolutely delicious and exactly what I was looking for – so light and refreshing. It may have been chucking it down outside, but for a brief moment I felt as though summer could be on its way.

From there we moved on to Alphabet – another small brewery that used to be the home of the Grub food fair before it moved to the Fairfield Social Club. Alphabet has really imaginative artwork and they always seem to be doing something new. I had one of their new beers, amusingly titled “Hey, I Just Met You and This Is Hazy” – a DDH NEIPA. At a staggering 7.3% I was glad I only had a half, but it was hoppy and juicy. Sara went for “Charlie Don’t Surf”, a session IPA (and an old favourite) which was more to her taste.

Alphabet is a really nice space and they still often host street food on a Saturday, so it’s well worth a visit if you get the chance. They have also introduced a loyalty card which I was pleased to take advantage of during our visit.

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A shot of our beers at Alphabet Brewery

The next stop on our tour was Unit 101, which is barely a one minute walk from Alphabet. Operated by Beer Merchants, Unit 101 is a craft beer bar, bottle shop, growler station and events space. I had been a few times before but only ever to peruse their excellent bottled and canned beer selection. It’s a really good place to go in Manchester if you’re after some beers from other parts of the UK. They usually have a good selection from Gypsy Hill Brewery (one of my favourites from when I lived in London) and also Lost and Grounded Brewery from Bristol, as well as many, many more.

I honestly can’t remember what beers we had in Unit 101 (I think the 7.3% IPA I’d just had was starting to hit me) but we were again made very welcome and given the chance to try a few different options before deciding what to have. It’s what I love most about the brewery scene in Manchester (well, breweries in general to be honest) – the people are always so friendly, helpful and passionate about what they do.

An added bonus about Unit 101, which has absolutely nothing to do with the beer, is the fact that they have lots of heaters so it’s lovely and toasty. Something that can’t be said for most breweries (although I guess that’s another part of the charm).

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I wish I could remember the name of the beers we had, but anyway here’s a picture
After warming ourselves up in Unit 101, we headed over to Track on Sheffield Street – a brewery I had heard great things about but actually hadn’t been to yet.

The taproom itself is small and modest, but the beer is incredible. I had the El Capitan – an IPA full of citrus and tropical hops which did not take long to go down because it was so gorgeous. Probably my favourite beer of the day. I can’t remember what Sara had unfortunately (I think I was too busy falling in love with my own beer) but I know she opted for something with a lower ABV than mine which was 5.7%. This was quite difficult to do in Track because their beers do tend to be on the stronger side.

Another thing worth mentioning about Track is that you have to pay a £3 deposit for your glasses. This isn’t an issue at all as you get the money back and you can still use your card – just worth noting in case you order a round without realising and wonder why you’ve paid £14.50 for two 2/3 pints!

Track Brewery makes great beer and it really stood out for me during our crawl. This might be because I’d not been before so it was more exciting, but despite that I would still highly recommend you go and try their beer because it is astonishingly good. I enjoyed it so much I took my boyfriend this weekend, as he hadn’t been before.

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El Capitan IPA, 5.7%

We then moved on to the wonderful Cloudwater Barrel Store – the “official” end of our crawl. Cloudwater is probably my favourite brewery in the world right now, so I feel very lucky living in Manchester and being able to drink their beers so often.

I picked Sara a saison with a low ABV and I had the DIPA Centennial. They were both very nice. We were starting to flag a little by this point so I won’t go in to any more detail about the Barrel Store or Cloudwater, however I will be writing another post about them soon.

We needed some food by this point so decided to hit up the Grub Food Fair at Fairfield Social Club. Grub always has a great selection of food and beer, so make sure you go if you live locally or are ever visiting Manchester of a weekend. We ordered from “What’s My Beef?” – Sara choosing the signature beef burger while I had their vegetarian option. I’ve been a pescetarian all my life and really appreciate how much easier it’s got over the years to find really good alternatives to meat. Nearly every restaurant or street food vendor these days seems to have a good vegetarian option – even those specialising in meat like “What’s My Beef?”.

After a swift half at the Piccadilly Tap right by the station, we headed home.

I really enjoyed introducing my friend to the delights of the Manchester brewery scene and to one of my passions. It took me back to when I first starting trying different beers and made me reflect on how much I’ve learnt since then (although I hope to never stop learning). Manchester is a great beer city – one you should definitely think about exploring more if you haven’t already.