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.

Indyman Beercon 2019

The blog is back! I’ve been away for a long time because sometimes, life just gets in the way, and these kinds of hobbies are sadly usually the first thing to drop. But following a conversation with my friend Sarah (fellow UK Brewery Tours guide) at last week’s Indyman Beercon in Manchester, I am going to start making much more of an effort to keep up with my writing! So what better to talk about for my first blog back than Indyman itself?

After attending only one session last year and loving it, I knew that this year I wanted to get more immersed in the Indyman experience. When the tickets were released, we bought some for the Friday evening session and Saturday day session (which we planned to use as an excuse to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday with friends). I also applied for trade tickets for the Friday day session due to my involvement with UK Brewery Tours, which I wasn’t expecting to get but I did (wahey!). In a mad moment closer to the festival, I also decided to volunteer for the Sunday session (more on that later).

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Rob (my boyfriend) in the Deya room on Friday

My boyfriend and I booked half days on the Friday of Indyman and managed to get across to Victoria Baths for about 1.00pm. After a year away, it felt great to be back in the stunning and maze-like venue with its high ceilings and hidden rooms. With so many rooms to explore and breweries in attendance, it was hard to know where to start. As I had enjoyed their beer so much at last year’s Indyman, I headed straight over to Other Half where I had their ‘Double mmm…fruit’ – a watermelon and lime sour berliner weisse – one of the many sours I sampled at this year’s Indyman and one of the most unique and memorable. On Sarah’s suggestion, I opted for North’s Golden Milk next – another sour beer but this time made with turmeric. Again, this was unlike any other sour beer I’d had before and I’d be keen to try this one again, as I’m not sure I was able to fully pick out the flavours after having the watermelon sour directly beforehand. This year’s Indyman was packed full of sour beers which was a great thing for me as I am a big fan. Later on in the day I also had The Kernal’s Biere de Saison which I’m pretty sure I’d had before, but admittedly it’s hard for me to see a saison from The Kernal and not order it straight away. Friday was most certainly my ‘sours day’ and I finished off the night with a Kriek from Portland Oregon’s Cascade Brewing which was the perfect end to an evening of great beer, spent with even greater people.

Saturday we were back bright and early for the day session. Most of the first half hour was spent trying to round up our friends, as we’d bought lots of tickets for this session to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday. Once everyone had arrived, tokens at the ready, we began to explore again, and I was determined to branch out and try something a little bit more outside my comfort zone. That opportunity came, when I spotted a black lager by Creature Comforts called ‘The Solent World’. I am partial to a lager from time to time – I had a fantastic pilsner recently by PFriem which was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever tasted – it sounds weird to describe a lager as ‘buttery’ but this one seriously was. But a black lager? I’d never had anything like that before and I wasn’t disappointed. It was probably the most drinkable and interesting beer I had all festival. After a short pause to buy a jumper from Pomona Island that I couldn’t resist, I was back to the sours again with an elderberry and redcurrent saison from Runaway Brewery. I’ve talked about how much I like Runaway before on this blog and I think their saisons are hard to beat. We don’t get as much chance to visit their taproom now we live outside the city centre, but I’m determined to make a stop there again soon. The last beer I noted down (before all my efforts to keep track went out of the window) was Donzoko’s Genever Red (8.2%!). I love a flanders red ale, possibly one of my favourite styles, so I’m not too unhappy to have stopped my recording there (N.B. more beers were definitely consumed).

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Having a great time with my fellow UK Brewery Tours guides (L-R, Simon, Sarah, Debbie and me)

I woke up surprisingly fresh on Sunday and raring to go for my volunteering session. The Sunday at Indyman is known for being the ‘chilled out’ session, so although I was feeling pretty good, I headed over to Victoria Baths hoping that would be the case. Kat and Becca, two of the organisers, did a really good job of trying to make sure we had a good time and aimed to place us with breweries that we liked. I was pleased to be assigned to the Deya room for the day to help out on the bar and it was nice to know that they had tried their best to match us to breweries we had said that we liked on our application forms (obviously not always possible, but it was a nice touch). The two brewers I was working alongside on the Deya bar were completely exhausted, but helpful and showed me the ropes. I’ve never served on a bar before and it made me realise how tiring it is. I’ve always had respect for bar staff; however it’s given me a new found appreciation for what they do. We only had 6 beers on the Deya bar on Sunday and I was only on my feet for 4.5 hours in total, but it was still really hard work. Imagine having to remember where everything is in a fully stocked bar of beers, wines, spirits and other beverages? Overall it was a great experience and I’d definitely be keen to volunteer again. It felt good to be serving people while they are having a great time and it was really nice to bump into a few people that I know too.

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Rob in one of the stalls on Saturday

After taking part in the clean-up operation once the session ended at 6.00pm, I went home with tired feet but a happy feeling of being part of something really amazing. It may be the end of Indyman for another year, however I have plenty of “beery” events coming up – loads more festivals, tours and blog ideas.

 

 

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!