Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Manchester Pale Ale

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.


Cooking Lager said...

I think people do look for products which offer a form of cultural identity. This is the unique thing about where I’m from that no other part of the world does. Or if they do, they don’t do it like this. You see it in a lot of products and the people I notice that care most about such stuff tend to be people that have migrated from somewhere. Not necessarily across national borders but those that most want a taste of home are people not living at home. Northerners down south, southerners up north. I think it’s difficult for a new product to achieve this as being new; it isn’t really a taste of home. It may become in time just that and a source of civic pride. Such status takes time. It’s the intangibles in brand value you cannot buy, only sell or run down.

As for the grog itself, I’ll try one if I see it. I usually steer clear of Lees. Not in my circle of trust. Anything the Tand says is worth a go is worth trying, mind.

Curmudgeon said...

It has historically proved difficult for brewers to sell in their own pubs a "bitter" that is less strong and cheaper than their standard bitter.

In the 1980s San Smith's found this with the long-defunct but in fact very palatable Tadcaster Bitter, and more recently the same seems to have happened with Holts IPA. I tend to avoid IPA because nobody else seems to be drinking it.

I suppose you could see this as Lees' answer to Marstons' EPA - but I can see it being more of a free trade product than a big seller in their tied estate.

py0 said...

Good name, bit like Marble's Manchester Bitter.

Interesting that breweries still seem to follow the logic of "what would attract people who normally drink cold, crisp lager? I know, something thick and creamy."

Has that ever worked on a single lager drinker?

Bailey said...

This seems like a smart move to me, assuming they can actually find outlets for it in London. Mancunians abroad will recognise the brewery's name, if not this specific beer, and those bloody great hints about how it's similar to Boddington's of old won't go amiss. (Is it similar? I don't know, but, from a distance, that's the message I'm getting.)

The only thing that would have been smarter is going for a generic 'northerness', which is what's happening with Tribute: a map of the entire South West in the marketing, sponsoring Somerset cricket, etc..

Curmudgeon said...

@py0: there's quite a lot of anecdotal evidence that golden ales can attract people who would normally drink lager and wouldn't be seen dead with a pint of dark brown beer.

OK, they're not going to tempt the dyed-in-the-wool Carling drinker, but a growing number of people now are repertoire drinkers who will switch their allegiance between different types of beer depending on the venue and the occasion.

py0 said...

Golden Ales, sure. That's not the bit I'm quibbling about. Make sense - golden ales look a bit like lager, and so might be seen as an attractive alternative.

Its the idea that it needs to be served through a tight sparkler to make it smooth and creamy that doesn't make sense. Whatever work you've done by making your beer nice and pale and lager-like is going to be undone by a mouthfeel as far away from a cool crisp lager as its possible to get.

Maybe if they were trying to attract smoothflow bitter drinkers it might make more sense. But they specifically mentioned lager.

Cooking Lager said...

It is one of the more bizarre conceits of marketing that customers can be convinced away from something they like and want in favour of something you are prepared to give them because presumably you are unwilling or unable to give them what they originally wanted. If we discount wartime product unavailability, has it ever really worked?

Tandleman said...

py0 and Cookie

I doubt that they are trying to woo the 18 to 24 years olds off their lout. There are plenty of others to have a go at and I reckon the Manchester connection is what they are really trying to push.

Mad for it!

py0 said...

You've got to woo the 18-30s at some point, otherwise you're not going to have a market, or a business, in 20 years time.

18-30 is the key period when people decide what kind of drinker they are. This is the reason the vast majority of marketing is aimed at that demographic.

Tandleman said...

py0 I think I suggested that point may be 25? Anyway. That's my take, not Lees.

Cooking Lager said...

The reason that most marketing is aimed at the young is because they are more amenable. That isn't gullible or anything. It just that old codgers are set somewhat in their ways. A young person may be more inclined to try something new. As to why that is, the 2 schools of thought I am aware of indicate either new things are by and large crap and the older you are the more likely you are to have figured this out or that old codgers are just miserable bastards convinced everything was better when they were a lad because back then they didn’t suffer erectile dysfunction or pain whilst pissing so in those ways it was. The younger drinker may not be a committed for life lager drinker just because he happens to like a pint of lout, though he is more likely to discover red wine than pongy brown grog.

py0 said...

Thats basically what I said Cookie, is it not? Very few people drink the same thing at 40 as they did at 20. However: quite a lot of people do drink the same at 60 as they did at 40.

Phil said...

But is it any good, I hear you cry. I was there too (I'll blog about it some time) and all I can say is that the very most I usually drink on a weeknight is three pints, maybe three and a half if I'm really pushing the boat out. MPA? I had five. Looks like a golden ale, tastes like a pale ale (i.e. 'of something') - but without the aggressive hopping of Marble beers or the 'oi, what they done to this one?' distinctiveness of EPA and Holts IPA (as much as I love both of them). A dry, refreshing, light session bitter. I think it should do well.

Barm said...

"The only thing that would have been smarter is going for a generic 'northerness', "

Granada Bitter, from t'North. Pity Tony Wilson isn't around to do the adverts.

Tandleman said...

Barm: I think after the failure of Lees Coronation Street, you have missed the bus.

Chris said...

Was that like Black Sheep Emmerdale Ale?