Of late I’ve been spending more time than usual inside Manchester railway arches. The usual hop-driven hideaways once promoted as The Piccadilly Beer Mile? Indeed, yes, but checking out a new wave of craft breweries with their roots in the first wave.
In what was the original Track premises on Sheffield Street I got previews of crowd-pleasing IPAs from Sureshot, new venture from James Campbell, a key figure in the rise of both Marble an Cloudwater.
That brewery is now safely launched and causing quite a stir. Next in the pipeline is a very different operation, Balance Brewing & Blending – an ambitious, barrel-fermenting labour of love from two brewers, whose day jobs are at Squawk and Track respectively. James Horrocks and Will Harris both share a common thread in their CVs that is a pointer to their leftfield brewing direction. Both worked for a certain Mike Marcus, regarded as the Che Guevara of the sour beer revolution. When Donald Trump was elected President maverick Mike cut all American hops out of his brewing process. Come Covid he mothballed his Chorlton Brewing Company and decamped to the Continent. Whispers have it Belgium or Estonia may be its next home.
It was never in Chorlton, but at 69 North Western Street, three arches down from Manchester Brewing Company, where James and Will rent brewing kit and store the key to their operation, 30 neutral barrels, where the wood won’t overwhelm their blends’ fruit. It has been a patient past 12 months or more waiting for the contents to mature to attain the right balance. For the duo, committed to barrel fermented, mixed culture beers, BALANCE is more than just a slogan.
Funky doesn’t have to mean over the top and their commitment to British ingredients is not a radical political stance. Their use of malt from Fawcetts in Yorkshire, hops from Brookhouse in Herefordshire and British grown fruit makes a sustainable statement about terroir. Early days yet, but tasting their first release, from bottle, it all made immediate sense.
The quietly glorious Saison de Maison will be launched at Cafe Beermoth in Manchester city centre from 6pm on Thursday, May 19. This is what Horrocks and Harris say about it: “It’s is a 6 per cent bretted saison, blended from beer fermented and conditioned in ex-red wine barrels before being dry-hopped with fresh UK Goldings. It is the first iteration of our house saison, which will be a regular release. The base beers were brewed using low colour Maris Otter and torrefied wheat to put a British spin on a classic Lambic-inspired base. The beer was hopped in the kettle with aged British Goldings and fresh Bramling Cross before being transferred to barrel to undergo fermentation with a carefully selected blend of Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus which we propagated in-house.
“After the fermentation and conditioning phase we selected barrels which offered the particular funky saison characteristics we desired and developed a final blend. This blend was transferred onto fresh Goldings and stayed on the hops
“The end result is a beer with bright carbonation and pleasing acidity leading into a layered, fruit forward brett and hop character. We get funky pineapple up front with hoppy notes of gingerbread, ripe peach and subtle Perry pear. Gentle bitterness and herbal, woodruff notes meander into the long, clean yet complex finish. This is the first beer we envisaged as we dreamed of brewing our own beer and we are so pleased with how it has come out.”
So what tipped the balance to get the right blend for this project?
James Horrocks and Will Harris laid the foundation in 2021, working evenings and weekends to get Balance off the ground. It helped that their niche ‘side project’ was not in competition with the core range of their employers, Squawk and Track. The pair were buoyed by their shared enthusiasm for sour, wild and funky beer nurtured at Chorlton. It also helps to heve some serious brewing chops. Will has a first degree in biochemistry and an MSc in Brewing and Distilling from Herriot Watt University. So what can we expect from the 750ml sharing bottles they will be releasing, roughly a beer a month over the next year?
Over to James: “Our aim is to produce nuanced sour and funky beers in a range of styles, from bretted saisons to Lambic-inspired creations, utilising both wild captured and lab propagated yeasts and bacteria. After fermenting in barrels for anywhere from four months to several years, we carefully select blends and move them onto hops, fruit or straight into bottle. The outcome is tart, complex, funky, fruity and ultimately an expression of our passion for these styles of beer and for the complexity that can be achieved through simple ingredients. Our next release is already in bottle too: Jam, a blend of saisons fermented in barrel then aged on damsons for four months.”