One of Manchester’s biggest beer festivals has returned – and it’s bigger (and better) than ever. After two years at the velodrome near the City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester and Beer Cider Festival has moved to Manchester Central (aka GMEX). Although the move didn’t seem to be an ideal situation for the organisers (especially as it costs significantly more to hire the venue), it’s worked out well for the event.
There are two main advantages – a central location and a better layout. Getting the tram up to the velodrome was always a bit of a pain so being right next to a city centre Metrolink stop does make the journey there and back much easier. In terms of the layout, all of the bars are in one place and you don’t have to traipse up and down flights of stairs to get everywhere.
The 2016 event also has another significant differentiating feature – the key-keg bar. Previous years did feature some keg beer on the international bar, this is a huge leap forward for CAMRA to welcome keg beer, albeit only certain keg beer, at one of their festivals. I’d heard it wasn’t popular among some of the more, shall we say, old school members of the organisation, but it just seems a decision that makes sense – if you cater for all beer lovers, you’ll get more customers. Indy Man Beer Con 2015 had something similar with the addition of cask beer, so it’s great that festival organisers are trying to cater for a variety of tastes.
In terms of the other beer on offer, the international bar has also grown significantly. Previous years often focused on German and Belgian beers, but 2016 also includes breweries from Denmark (Amager), Sweden (Omnipollo) and even a couple from New Zealand. Spanish beer is also featured due to a link up with the Barcelona Beer Festival – another progressive move from CAMRA. As a result of this partnership, BBF will include a Manchester bar with 24 beers from the city being sent over – a nice idea. And I can’t not mention the British cask beer: there are 471 British beers from 170 breweries. Enough to keep everyone happy.
Overall, it’s a great event and the organisers have done a fantastic job. I feel that they’ve taken feedback on board from previous years – I didn’t spot any sexist t-shirts on sale, for example – and organised a festival that keeps both the real ale purists and the craft beer drinkers happy. The only criticisms I have are minor; it’s a bit chilly in there (but it’s a huge venue and a former railway station so I assume fairly difficult to heat), the food offer isn’t the best for non-meat eaters (although they’re selling the wonderful Karkli which is just about the best beer snack of all time),and it doesn’t appear that there’s anywhere to get a glass of tap water (the bar I asked at didn’t have drinking water, at least – maybe some of the others do). We also did move seats at one point as we were sat across from some gents making some fairly sexist/out-dated comments – not directed at me, I should point out – which did ruin the atmosphere a bit and show that maybe not everyone is as progressive as the organisers are trying to be…
These minor points aside, it’s a well-organised festival with some exciting and interesting beers to try – and I’m looking forward to a return visit on Friday.