The Rain Bar in Manchester is one of Lees flagship pubs and a very nice place indeed. Formerly an umbrella factory, it was the host venue for the launch of J W Lees latest permanent beer to join the range. A fun night was promised, with local celebrities, a quiz and of course, the beer itself.
I got there bang on five and there was a few in already, some of whom I even knew. This was later to be supplemented by the Beer Beauty herself, Marverine Cole, who was there to add journalistic gravitas to the assembled motley crew of customers, beer buffs, publicans and what not. She also provided a bit of jolly company for me, which was rather nice. This being Manchester and a straightforward kind of place, there was no keeping you gagging for a drink. Before the welcoming speech by MD William Lees-Jones, we were introduced to the beer in the best way possible - by serving us a foaming pint of it.
William Lees-Jones then welcomed us all to the event. He outlined that the beer itself was firmly a reflection of Manchester, with its bright, golden colour and its tight, creamy head. He mentioned that such a beer from Manchester was sorely needed since Boddington's retreat from cask and that the brewery was aiming high, with London a likely target. He also spoke of the new brand’s targeted appeal to younger lager drinkers looking for a “real refreshing alternative”. He felt the name Manchester Pale Ale - MPA - for short was ideal to achieve national status. He hoped that MPA would do for Lees what London Pride did and does for Fullers. As I said, high aims indeed. The beer itself had been developed from a very successful seasonal beer of last year (British Jewels) and was 100% malt with Liberty and Mount Hood hops. It is designed to be served through a tight sparkler and William added that the aim will be to provide a sparkler to all purchasers of the beer, along with pouring instructions. While lauding the aim, there will have to be some serious knocking of heads together if this superior way of serving beer is to penetrate some parts of this sceptred isle.
What of the beer? The brewery describes it as "Golden yellow in colour. Floral Aromas with citrus and malt. Medium bodied, well rounded, light fruits, citrus and malt to taste. Refreshing finish.". Well, yes. I think they could have given it a bit more thought than that. The beer isn't nearly as boring as that makes it sound. The Liberty and Mount Hood hops do show through, particularly in the rather bitter finish which leaves you feeling like another pint. The bottled version comes in at a slightly higher gravity at 4.1%.
Will it succeed? This is a twofold question really. First there is Lees own 170 strong estate. I reckon it will do rather well there, as it provides a golden ale alternative and will be priced at 5p a pint cheaper than Lees Bitter. Looking wider, I see the targets as Deuchars IPA and Thwaites Wainwright among others. It should certainly do better than Deuchars (apart from in Scotland) and as Wainwright seems to have gained in sweetness at the expense of hops, there should be a good opportunity there too. As Lees is my local brewery, I hope to see them achieve success. (Interest declared - I am Lees CAMRA Brewery Liaison Officer.)
The night itself continued with pints of MPA, a quiz hosted by Mark Radcliffe, in which I was knocked out early, proving my Manchester local knowledge to be at best surface deep and a disco by the famous Bez of Happy Mondays fame. I was able to introduce the Beer Beauty to the Lees-Joneses and we got a goody bag on the way out, so I am the proud possessor of a bottle of MPA and am MPA bottle opener. I have already used my MPA sunglasses!
I look forward to seeing MPA in my local pubs and elsewhere. Lees are putting a lot of effort into this beer and I'll be plotting progress with a very keen interest.
Manchester Pale Ale has its own website. I'd recommend though that the JW Lees webbie links to it, which it doesn't, though it does the other way. Nor does it seem to mention it at all, which seems a missed opportunity.