Brewed Awakening: The Northwest's Best Beers and The Best Pubs

Presenting your Favourite Local Beers and Best Pubs: in which we're all becoming craft ale connoisseurs, and what constitutes a boozer is apparently in the eye of the beholder

Feature by Jamie Faulkner | 07 Jan 2015

Firstly: is anyone bored of craft beer yet? The answer would seem to be an emphatic and obvious no! 

We asked you to let us know who brews the best beers in your respective cities – and fewer votes for the mainstream breweries would seem to indicate that the kind of beers you find at Indy Man Beer Con are gradually winning hearts, minds and tongues. Since the average reader probably knows more about craft beer than ever before, we won’t waffle on about it. Instead, we asked a couple of your favourite brewers what the 2015 beer scene will look like and what they’re looking forward to.

Mad Hatter Brewing’s Sue Starling, who runs the Baltic Triangle-based brewery together with husband Gaz Matthews, looked further afield than Liverpool to happenings in Europe and their after-effects: “I think we’ll see more sour and barrel-aged beers," she says. "Lots of breweries have been barrel-aging for a couple of years now, so we should start to see the results soon. I’m looking forward to: Stone opening a brewery in Germany, and what this will mean for German craft brewing; whether they'll take on some of the American brewing techniques popularised by Stone. And, more widely, what this will mean for European IPAs: will they pale in comparison with Stone's IPAs?”

Mancunian stalwarts Marble, who were bound to make an appearance, owe their continued success to a welcome combination of age, clever branding and a good core range boosted by some great specials. Their head brewer, Matthew Howgate, was keen to highlight that, as well as these factors, they would include the need to maintain high standards: “The brewery will be focusing on quality and consistency for 2015," he says. "We feel if we can maintain these steps we will carry on being recognised as one of the top small brewers in the country.” Their project manager, Joseph Mountain, added: “We want to focus more on our keg products. We are even getting a new tank at the start of next year in order to brew our first lager permanently; on top of this we are going to be doing a couple of collaborations with good people and are planning something special for brew 900. After a difficult year in 2013 it has been great for the company to get focused and see everybody enjoying our beers so much again.”

For our part, we’re most looking forward to the opening of Cloudwater Brew Co, a project that brings together former Marble man James Campbell, Summer Wine’s William France and beer aficionado/entrepreneur Paul Hige; and here’s to (fingers crossed!) the continued refinement of the existing offerings in the Northwest. (Also making it onto your list were First Chop, Privateer and Liverpool Organic Brewery: for the full results, click here.)

Secondly, 'Is anyone bored of pubs yet?' wins the award for stupidest question of the year. Even if, for whatever reason, you abstain from drinking and shun boozers altogether, you'd be hard pushed to deny the cultural and sociological importance of the pub. But it seems that, for some, the idea of what constitutes a public house is open to slight interpretation. 

Two city centre establishments in Manchester always seem to crop up, as they did last year, in these kinds of things: The Marble Arch and The Castle Hotel. The former used to house the original Marble Brewery and in many ways pioneered craft beer in these parts. It's also, in a lot of folks' minds, the quintessential pub: well-kept ale, tiles, and hearty grub. The latter, while its offerings might be scoffed at by more adventurous beer drinkers, has all the fixtures and fittings you'd expect, amplified by cosy dimensions and pickled eggs. 

In a different vein, 
Fallow Cafe, which took over the Trof Fallowfield site at the tail-end of 2013,
 doesn't strike us as, y'know, a 'pub' pub but they've followed in their predecessor's footsteps by offering live music, a crowd-pleasing menu and keenly priced cocktails. And, who knows, maybe this is what students think a pub is these days. Whatever the case, the beer list is far from shabby but your friendly Food and Drink section reckons nearby The Font trumps it.

In Liverpool, votes for Evil Eye Beer and Burrito Shack seem to suggest that 'pub' is a word in flux. We'd say it's more a restaurant that serves beer but you guys are, collectively, the boss so we ain't arguing! The beer menu reads simply 'mmm hops' but there is actual beer, like Mahou, Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam and Sam Adams. Nothing groundbreaking but undeniably good enough to see off a burrito with.

The Grapes on Roscoe Street was your other pub of choice in Merseyside. Now we're back to familiar territory, though the weekly Sunday jazz night and the huge rum selection arguably lift it above the realm of your average city-centre boozer – it's also welcoming and cosmopolitan, as all good pubs should be. 

Rarely do you see a new pub open, but if bars and pubs are now interchangeable we're sure that our third Survey will see this category more hotly contested than ever. 

The Skinny Food and Drink Survey 2015:

• The best pubs and bars in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as picked by our readers in Scotland

• All your favourite food locations across the Northwest from this year's survey