There’s only one thing you really need to know about the launch event I went to the other week for JW Lees’ Manchester Pale Ale – a busy evening full of sarcastic MCing, warm men in suits, spaced-out DJing, tiny canapes, local legendry, munificent swag and much free beer – and that’s the amount of MPA I put away. Bear in mind that this was a weeknight, and that my ideal beer is something brown and malty – I ‘got’ pale beers a couple of years ago, but they don’t usually make me want to go back for more. Especially not on a weeknight.
Unless they’re really good, that is.
And the answer is: five pints. (Well, four and two halves.) It’s a very fine beer. No prizes for guessing what area of the style palette they’re going for: William Lees-Jones introduced it by saying, inter alia, that they thought they’d succeeded in putting the cream back into Manchester – “and by ‘eck, it’s gorgeous”. (This is probably a reference that’s best kept for the trade, sadly – there must be an awful lot of beer drinkers out there who miss the old Boddington’s bitter, but anyone who’s drinking what goes by that name now won’t be attracted by a much stronger-tasting newcomer.) So it’s a light, sessionable golden ale, but with enough hop character and aroma to earn the ‘pale ale’ tag; it’s got that ‘refreshingly bitter’ quality, particularly on the finish. It doesn’t have the aggressive hopping of a Marble or Titanic, or the smoky aromatic quality of an IPA (or Marston’s EPA); but it has got enough hopping to keep it interesting, and avoid the blandness of so many golden and blonde ales. On a cool evening it was very drinkable indeed; I can only imagine what it would be like on a warm day.
All this and… bloggers! (Well, Tand and Marv.) Bez, being Bez! Radio’s Mark Radcliffe, to whom I would like to apologise for the amount of time I spent hovering six feet away from his table without ever actually approaching! (Mark: sorry. It was late and I was drunk. Might I also mention that my folk music Web site is very good?) The smallest canapes you have ever seen (although, fair play, there were plenty of them)! Free bottles of beer, one of which I swiped for later, before discovering that the goodie bag pressed on us at the end contained a bottle of beer! An amateur photography exhibition curated by the great Kevin Cummins – something of a hero of mine – whom I also didn’t manage to say hello to! (What can I say, I wasn’t 100% sure it was him, and I didn’t want to risk asking some random stranger if he was Kevin Cummins. I’m not sure I’m cut out for this journalism lark.)
And lots and lots of men in suits. (I think I even spotted Richard Leese.) There was an odd sort of two-way disjuncture built in to the event, I felt. On one hand, here was a brewer staking a claim to contemporary relevance, breaking away from the past and making for the cutting edge, and they accompany it with music and visuals that evoke a period 20-30 years in the past. On the other, here were Bez! and Mark Radcliffe!! and Kevin Cummins!!! doing their thing – but they were doing it for an audience of, well, men in suits: Lees’ tenants and managers, most of whom looked as if they’d have been happier with Justin Moorhouse and “Hi Ho Silver Lining”. Perhaps it’s like time travel – Lees’ are collectively travelling forward to the present, but they’re doing it slowly. Next year: the Poll Tax, John Major and “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”.
As for Manchester Pale Ale, I’d recommend it to anyone except the most hardened neophiles and hop-monsters. The bottled version (at 4.1%) is good, but for my money cask (at a mere 3.7%) is where it really scores. At present you’ll need to seek it out in a Lees’ pub, but I think the plan is to sell it into the chain ‘guest’ market (alongside the Deuchars IPAs and Cumberland Ales of this world); I hope it works out.
I was invited to the launch of MPA by the nice people at Tangerine PR and plied with booze and canapes by Lees themselves. Free or not, if I hadn’t liked the beer I wouldn’t have carried on drinking it.