Macclesfield. There, I've said it. What does it mean to you? Nothing probably, unless you happen to be looking out of your Virgin train window going to and from Manchester on the London train, or, if you like, to and from London on the Manchester train. Well there is that, but Macclesfield it isn't a bad place at all to go for a drink. Whisper it. You can even get craft keg there. Mind you, it wasn't the lure of fizzy, expensive beer that took us there, but a visit to Red Willow Brewery, a brewery, which though probably not that well known out of its home area, is rather well thought of in these parts. And deservedly so, with substance firmly pushing style aside. Not that the beers aren't stylish. They are.
Macc is rather an odd mixture of really nice and really not that nice. The Red Willow Brewery is in a Victorian part of the town in a very old and rather worn looking set of brick buildings housing other small businesses. Red Willow is squeezed in there somehow, with every inch of the brewery crammed with kit. Amazingly, it is expanding, though as owner Toby McKenzie told us, it was a bit of a job to work out where it could all go. We could see what he meant. Naturally there was beer and as Toby discussed how he had set up the business and what his ideas and plans were, he gave us free reign of several stillaged and handpumped beers, as well as the opportunity to sample beers straight from the conditioning tanks. Great stuff. All his beers end in "less" and I really enjoyed the pale and hoppy Headless and, despite my general dislike of smoked beers, Smokeless, which is deliciously drinkable and only subtly smoked. Great for those like me that find too much smoke, er, too much.
Toby is an interesting guy and as we know each other a little, we talked about the beer scene in general and craft keg. Interestingly our discussion took place as we gazed upon his supplies of keykegs and keg beers for his own pub, more of which in a moment. We didn't disagree on much and had a good discussion about keykegs, which Toby sees as having rather limited future as one way use metal kegs become more prevalent and cheaper (it is always an annoyance to me that publicans apply GSP to a container rather than just the content but that's an aside and a complicated one at that.) It was a good trip to a good brewery with a brewer that knows exactly what he is about.
After an all too brief tour round some of Macclesfield's pubs, including the Waters Green Tavern - OK - but not much more to my mind, the Castle, with a interior in the National Inventory of historic pub interiors with excellent beer and rather odd Polish grub and the small, friendly, modern and rather excellent Treacle Tap, we ended up in the Red Willow owned and operated by Red Willow Brewery and only open for a few months. We bumped into Toby again who was keen to show me his rather excellent cellar and afterwards talk me through the way the pub looks, which is really rather splendid in fact. The building is an ex furniture showroom, the bar is long and well stocked with both cask and keg beers, most of which aren't from Red Willow, but many of course are. That isn't a hardship as the beers are great. All are displayed on a flat screen TV so you don't have to ask what's on, or elbow those at the bar aside to have a look for yourself. Furniture is a mix of sofas, chairs and tables which all work remarkably well. It is highly recommended and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. I think it fair to say we were sorry to have to leave.
Sitting on the coach on the way back to Manchester, I reflected that
despite the success of the brewery, having its own pub, must be a huge
bonus for any small brewer,despite the expense and hassle of setting it up in the first place. A guaranteed outlet, especially one as well thought out and well run as this one, while not exactly a "must" is surely well worth thinking about for many a small brewery?
Bonus. At long last I had a beer from Arbor that I actually liked. The Mild West was superb. I should also add that lack of time meant several recommended pubs had to be missed out. Finally, how do the prices grab you?
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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