Craft beer and real ale is booming. More and more Manchester breweries are popping up to produce some seriously good drops, which means that our pubs, bars and even our restaurants enjoy a really very good choice these days. In fact, a lot of them are getting in on the act themselves, creating their own concoctions and peddling them to a public that has really taken these artisanal options to its heart. So if craft's your creed, take a look at our pick of the best craft beer bars and pubs in Manchester and worship at the altar of ale. Happy drinking.
Manchester craft beer bars
Brewdog are one of the runaway success stories of the new wave of British brewing, now boasting scores of bars across the UK and beyond. Staff are among the most knowledgeable in the city when it comes to beer. As a sort of ongoing test of their knowledge, the beer selection is vast and ever-changing. The core range includes the widely known Punk IPA and 5AM Saint – a pale ale and ‘iconoclastic’ amber ale, respectively.
In spite of the name, the number of cask ales on offer is CAMRA-worryingly small, at a mere four. Still, rather that than a place struggling to shift 12 lines’ worth of rapidly staling ale. What you will find is hand-pull appearances from respected brewers like Dark Star, Phoenix and Tickety Brew. And the expansive range of bottles will more than compensate those who prefer their beer with a little carbonation.
The principal brewer here is Frederic Robinson, creators of ‘Build A Rocket Boys’, in tribute to Elbow’s charming indie hit, and who also provide ‘Trooper’. Concocted in conjunction with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, it’s a pleasant citrus blend that’s hardly as doom-laden as your might imagine. Other popular ales include Unicorn, a satisfying pale ale, and the cheekily titled Dizzy Blonde. There are usually no fewer than ten ales on tap, and a plethora of specialist beers and wines.
A loyal CAMRA following means you’ll rarely get a duff pint here, a place of quiet escape where the beer is well kept and the only beards in sight are on wizened old ale hounds. On the eight hand pulls, you’ll find locally-sourced ales (they won a LocAle award for promoting the stuff in 2013 and 2014) which often feature the reliable Hornbeam from Denton and Stoke-on- Trent’s Titanic Brewery.
Situated just on the cusp of the Northern Quarter, the Crown and Kettle is a neat hybrid of hipster scene pub and good-and-proper local. The beer is decidedly craft: local brewers Privateer, First Chop, Blackjack and Shindiggers are all regulars on cask and from further afield there’s guest lagers from the likes of Camden Town and Runaway breweries.
Just a stone’s throw from the famous ‘Four Banks’ of Chorlton, Electrik has the vibe of a place John Peel might have built just to listen to records in. It’s a 1970s tinged bar that serves up some stonking real ale (including their own award-winning collaborations with local brewer Happy Valley), and good wholesome food, with arguably the best Sunday roast in Chorlton.
First Chop specialises in ‘hop-forward’ creations. Their TEA, a pale ale hopped to the nines with American IPA and New Zealand hops, pulls no punches, while the award-winning blonde AVA, named after the owner Richard’s daughter, has a character that belies its 3.5 percent ABV, thanks to the ‘noble’ Czech aroma. They’ve also done such wacky stuff as collaborate with local clothing label Good Measure to produce the single-hopped Good Measure pale amber ale.
If money's no object, seek out the malty Hop Ottin' IPA from Anderson Valley or Goose Island's superior black rye saison Pepe Nero. British ale is strongly represented: Pressure Drop, Weird Beard and local boys Quantum are all in the fridge and you'll find four rotating casks, too. Think Red Willow's Headless and Saltaire's Elderflower Blonde and you've got the right idea. There’s also Flensburger, Founder’s Centential IPA and Camden Hells on draught.
The Gaslamp shirks the gastropub trend by focusing fully on its selection of fine brews from around the country and indeed the world. It was one of the first to serve Boston’s Sam Adams on draught, and keeps things local with the likes of Privateer, The Runaway Brewery and Blackjack Beers on cask.
You can tell by just looking at the place that Knott is a higher breed of bar. Once voted CAMRA’s regional pub of the year in Greater Manchester, the Knott’s beer selection has a solid reputation. The website lists their favourite brewers – Buxton, Thornbridge, Red Willow often feature on the pumps – but you’ll find offerings equally weighted to international fare.
There are enough cask ales (Dark Star, Pictish, Allgates) to keep die-hard ale nuts happy. Among the 30-odd draught offerings, you’ll find everything from the commonplace Erdinger and Rekorderlig cider to Brasserie Lefebvre’s Blanche de Bruxelles and the odd beer from Summer Wine. The bottle selection embraces Belgium, Holland and Germany; you’ll find a chalkboard full of potential libations or a printed version if you’re digging in for the night.
If you have an interest in real ale and have been to Manchester before, odds are you’ve either already been here or been given a glowing review of this mecca of craft beer and cask ale. Port Street Beer House’s owners are also behind the region’s favourite beer festival, Victoria Baths’ Indy Man Beer Con which takes place each October. But even if the finer points of brewing leave you cold, the more than helpful staff can recommend things to suit your tastes, for Port Street Beer House is here to educate and entertain as much as it is to satiate.
On three different levels but seemingly only one floor, Sandbar could be the smallest labyrinthine bar in the city. A mainstay of the academics of the city hoping to escape the various Scream and Union bars where their lesser and louder peers might Jaegerbomb the night away, it’s elongated bar offers up an astounding selection of cask and imported lagers, including some crackers from Camden Town Brewery and the delicious wheat treat of Blanch de Bruxelles (Sandbar was the first to serve the beer on tap in the city).
When you’ve got first-rate DJs to entice punters, first-rate booze can wait. Not so for Twenty Twenty Two. With the exception perhaps of Gorilla, they’ve set a new standard. Bottle-wise, you’ve got a couple of gems from Buxton – the coffee-inflected Rednik Stout has 93/100 on ratebeer.com – and four Thornbridge brews, including Kipling and Tzara. The house cask ale A Selecao is a passable 4 percent extra pale ale brewed by Bury’s Outstanding Beer.
As befits a chain, the drinks menu’s prerogative is to cater for all tastes. Besides the J2Os and Magners, you might find an offbeat ale on the six casks pumps but it’s more likely to be the ubiquitous Jaipur from Thornbridge or offerings from Hawkshead or Roosters. No criticism; they’re more than respectable outfits.