Tag Archive for: Festival

I called it my winter wonderland windfall. The Christmas before last I won the Christmas draw at Tipples of Manchester. Delivered to my door, before Santa had even harnessed up the reindeer, £1,000 worth of mixed spirits, genuinely artisan stuff. The gin quota has long since gone, servicing my Negroni habit, ditto the Donegal vodka to create my Bloody Mary of choice, while the bourbons/whiskies assiteded greatly in my quest for the perfect Old-Fashioned. Bizarrely the handful of bottles that remain in the cellar are primarily of rum, which I like to sip neat, the darker the better, but only when the weather is braw.

Still I have been a touch neglectful. It’s not as if I haven’t been a champion of rum in my writing. Take this article from five years ago  – Getting the Abbey rum habit in the heart of old Barbados. . Or from my last overseas trip before lockdown – Spice up your life with a rum ramble around  St Lucia (2020). The previous year I’d even dared to question the hegemony of gin in the company of rum’s great and good – Dark Spirits. Rum Rocks, but could it take over from gin? Who could doubt the wisdom of one of those gurus I quizzed, Ian ‘Rum’ Burrell, of Channel 4 Sunday Bruch fame: “My three favourite rums are the one in my glass, the next one, and a free one”?

On Saturday, July 8. World Rum Day, comes the chance to live that dream (on repeat!) as Manchester Rum Festival returns to the Mercure hotel, Piccadilly. The 2023 version looks packed with delights. Check out the exhibitors here. It’s not just about access to some truly rare tipples. Also part of the package are Caribbean Street Food from Nyammin’ and calypso-inspired DJ sets. With some hats and shirts that awesomely get into the spirit of it all. Tickets are great value at £25 plus booking fee for seven hours of spirited exploration (12pm-7pm). Buy them here.

A big bonus is the chance for fest revellers to purchase a one-off, limited-edition bottle of the official Festival rum, which is a collaboration with Outlier Distilling Company of the Isle of Man. Named ‘Punk Croc’, this 41% limited edition blend is a Manx rum with a cask-aged bite. Blended exclusively from rum made in Outlier’s 160L wood-fired still, Punk Croc features rum aged in Sauternes, New American Oak and Islay casks. Perfect for Mojitos and Daiquiris with attitude, the bottling will only be available at the festival.

Additionally, Distillers Direct will be joining the summer festival with a very special limited edition single cask of Chairman’s Reserve Rum, which has been produced in partnership with The Drinks Trust. Festival founder Dave ‘Drinks Enthusiast’ Marsland is brand ambassador for St Lucia Rum, whose flagship product is Chairman’s Reserve.

 The UK’s largest rum distillery, DropWorks, which is based on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire, will be making their very first rum festival appearance after launching at the latter end of May! They bring in the finest molasses, ferment it with their own cultivated trinity yeast strain, distil it in their bespoke stills, then blend and mature it in their own barrels across their three unique ageing locations.

Also debuting at the festival are Rhum JM, an historic rum from Martinique in the Caribbean with a super sustainable background focusing on biodiversity and the preservation of nature, and Takamaka, the first ever rum from the Seychelles to join the Manchester line-up. Two rums from Madeira  – 970 and Tristão Vaz Teixeira – will become the first brands ever to exhibit from the Portuguese Island. Manchester debuts too  for Ron Piet from Panama, Tilambic from Mauritius, Eminente from Cuba and Paranubes from the mountainous Oaxaca region in Mexico and Bone Idyll – a rum distillery based in less exotic Kingston upon Thames.

It’s the beery equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau – well kind of. I’ve never twigged why, Kent apart, we don’t celebrate the UK’s new ‘green’ hops harvest by brewing with them. Virtually straight from the stalk. It’s a big thing in the craft ale heartlands of the USA.

On a road trip stop-off in Washington State’s hop capital, Yakima, we were devastated to discover we were one week early to join in the annual ‘Fresh Hop Party’. Bet it was an epic celebration in the heart of the fertile volcanic soil where 75 per cent of American hops are grown. Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and the rest.

Victoria Baths on Hathersage Road becomes the epicentre of UK beer culture for four days

At Indy Man Beer Con at Manchester’s Victoria Baths (Sept 29-Oct 2) we aim to make up for that miss in a small way by sampling ‘Hops are Green’, an Extra Special Bitter created by JW Lees specially for the festival, returning after a  two year hiatus. 

We suggest you do the same. Nominally sold out, IMBC have just released a batch of extra tickets.Tickets are available for the following sessions: evenings 5:30pm-10.30pm  Thursday/Friday/Saturday; daytimes 11pm-4pm, Friday/ Saturday; and on Sunday 1pm-6pm. Buy via this link but hurry!

Of all the area’s traditional family brewers 200-year-old Middleton-based Lees are the ones who get down most with the craft beer kids. They’ve long shared with Cloudwater some of their legendary, long-lived yeast strains. Just this week I tasted a Cloudwater ‘JW Lees’ DIPA in a can that was quite splendidly balanced – at 9%!

Lees’ own ‘Hops are Green’ is a quite different beast, inspired by a need to start a conversation about sustainability in beer. The industry is facing multiple challenges from climate change and inflation to water shortages and demographic shifts. 

Independent Manchester Beer Convention (to give its full title) and JW Lees wanted to explore how you might brew with a lower carbon footprint, which helps the brewer run a successful business, delivers a beer which the craft beer drinker loves, but which doesn’t break the bank. Beer brewed and drunk locally, with more locally sourced ingredients could be part of the answer.

That means marking the sustainble progress made by domestic hop growers rather than importing from far-away Yakima (or even New Zealand). Groundbreaking Brook House Hops in Herefordshire fits that bill admirably.

Matt Gorecki, Head of Beer at the festival told me: “We all love American Hops and we have for years, but we can’t ignore what people like Brook House are doing right here on the doorstep.They’re growing some mega stuff! When we first spoke to JW Lees and heard Michael’s story about working with the same farmers and fields as his grandfather we just felt that we could bring together the best of both worlds.”

Lees were definitely up for it. Head Brewer Michael Lees-Jones, said: “We are experienced in adapting as the world changes around us.  In order to stay relevant and to keep pouring beer for the next 200 years we need to remain curious and to experiment with different ideas. We think it is great that the IMBC team are asking questions about sustainability in beer as we consider how we can be a more sustainable brewery.”

I haven’t tasted ‘Hops are Green’ yet, but like the sound of it – an Extra Special Bitter. “Typically a malt forward brew using English yeast and firm but not over the top hopping, it will be finished using freshly harvested green hops from the forward thinking hop growers at Brook House.” 

So what are Green or ‘Wet’ Hops?

An ingredient  with a lower carbon footprint due to their lack of time in an energy intensive kiln, where hops are usually cured to preserve and intensify their flavour. They’re used in an array of seasonal beers in the US around harvest time but curiously not so much in the UK. They’re grown in Herefordshire and were transported to the brewery by road. It will preview at the festival and be available at several JW Lees pubs as well as Port Street Beer House.

This beer is the first in a series of beers produced with sustainability in mind, with Cheltenham based Deya Brewery, picking up the baton to create the next product following the festival. Any brewery wishing to get involved can contact the IMBC team through their social media channels.

Welcome back Indyman

Since its inception in 2012 Independent Manchester Beer Convention (Indy Man Beer Con/IMBC) has proved a world class showcase for the most forward thinking breweries from the UK and beyond. Everything about it (apart from the amount consumed) is different from the traditional beer festival. Not least the venue – the Grade II listed, architectural gem Victoria Baths.

Inclusivity and diversity are part of its appeal. And great street food. This year’s focus on sustainability and environmental awareness of the impact of the brewing industry sees special, cross-Atlantic collaborative brewing and innovative approaches to recycling spent products.

It’s a big step up from that first pioneering IMBC, created by Jonny Heyes, founder of Common & Co (Common, The Beagle, Nell’s Pizza, Summer Beer Thing). Just two rooms were used, hosting only 20 breweries. Nowadays more than 60 breweries will occupy every nook and cranny . From the main ‘stages’ in the old swimming pools to tasting areas and snug bars in the Turkish Baths, the breweries will pour a selection of their beers to thousands of beer lovers and converts alike.

It’s been amazing stepping back inside restaurants and bars post-pandemic. From those first, tentative socially distanced steps to the current slightly strained normality in these difficult economic times.

Still the sheer joy of shared conviviality fuels my renewed enthusiasm for the Manchester Food and Drink Awards (here’s my preview). As a veteran judge, helping to assemble the 2022 shortlists just announced, that sense of responsibility returned but also admiration for the quality of contenders – 113 nominees across 16 award categories and so many worthy indie heroes who just missed the cut.

A special word of praise for a new arrival, the Great Service Award. There’s no hiding from front of house shortages, so a public vote celebrating the heroes who keep the hospitality wheels rolling couldn’t be more important.

Last year’ MFDF Awards ceremony packed Escape to Freight Island with the cream of the hospitality industry

The Manchester Food and Drink Festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is all about post-COVID recovery and it seems appropriate to continue to give the public a greater say in who wins its coveted Awards. 10 categories will be judged entirely by your vote. Here’s the MFDF voting link.

The winners of four more, Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Best Newcomer and Bar of the Year, will be chosen by a combination of a ‘mystery shopping panel’ selected from MFDF judges with a measure of public input. Independent Food Producer and Independent Drinks Producer will be judged by a panel taste test. 

All the shortlists have been compiled by the MFDF judging panel, consisting of the region’s leading food and drink critics, writers and experts.  Businesses were able to self-nominate for their chance to gain a spot on the shortlist and the categories have been carefully considered and curated with an absolute passion for the city’s industry at their heart.
This year’s MFDF Awards are sponsored for the first time by Bruntwood. The closing date for votes is September 16.
The 2022 Manchester Food and Drink Festival Awards nominations:


Four Side Pizza 559 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 0AE

Herbivorous Unit 7, Hatch, 103 Oxford Road, M1 7ED

Otto Vegan Empire 26A Bramhall Lane South, Bramhall, Stockport, SK7 1AF

Ruyi 101 Manchester Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 9GA

Sanskruti 93-95 Mauldeth Road, Manchester M14 6SR

The Walled Garden Whalley Range

Wholesome Junkies Unit 4 Mirabel Street, Manchester, M3 1PJ


Bundobust Brewery St James’ Building, 61-69 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6EQ

Cloudwater 7-8 Piccadilly Trading Estate, Manchester, M1 2NP

Hip Pop Manor House Farm, Station Road, Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 5SG

Into the Gathering Dusk

Stockport Gin 19B St Peters Gate, Stockport, SK1 1EB

Steep Soda 73 Temperance Street, Manchester, M12 6HU

Track Brewing Unit 18, Piccadilly Trading Estate, Manchester, M1 2NP


Dormouse Chocolates Unit O, Deansgate Mews, Manchester M3 4EN

Great North Pie Co Market House, Altrincham, WA15 1SA 

Holy Grain 253 Deansgate Great Northern Mews, Manchester M3 4EN

La Chouquette 812a Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6UH

Long Boi’s Bakehouse 40 Forest Range, Levenshulme Manchester M19 2HP


Yellowhammer 15 Lower Hillgate, Stockport SK1 1JQ


Ancoats, Chapel Street Salford, Monton, Prestwich, Ramsbottom, Sale, Stockport 


Cafe Sanjuan 27 St Petersgate, Manchester, SK1 1EB 

Factory Coffee 38 King street West, Manchester, M3 2WZ

Grind and Tamp 45 Bridge Street, Ramsbottom, Bury, BL0 9AD

Grapefruit 2 School Road, Sale, M33 7XY

Just Between Friends 56 Tib Street, Manchester, M4 1LG

Station South 975-977 Stockport Road, M19 3NP 

Pollen Cotton Field Wharf, 8 New Union Street, Manchester, M4 6FQ


Burgerism 18 West Ashton Street, Salford, M50 2XS

House of Habesha Stretford Foodhall, Chester Road, M32 9BD

Little Lanka 238 South Wellington Road South, Stockport, SK2 SNW 

Lovingly Artisan Altrincham Market, Greenwood Street, Altrincham, WA14 1PF 

Mira Ancoats General Store, 57 Great Ancoats Street, Manchester, M4 5AB

New Wave Ramen Mackie Mayor, 1 Eagle Street, Manchester, M4 5BU

Pico’s Tacos Mackie Mayor, 1 Eagle Street, Manchester, M4 5BU


Aunty Ji’s 987 Stockport Road, Manchester, M19 2SY

Bahn Mi Co Ba 87 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 6EG 

Cafe Sanjuan 27 St Petersgate, Manchester, SK1 1EB 

Levenshulme Bakery842 Stockport Road, Levenshulme, Manchester, M19 3AW

Go Falafel 3 Newton Street, Manchester, M1 1HW

Mama Flo’s314 Buxton Road, Stockport, SK2 7DD

Salt & Pepper MCR Black Dog Ballroom, 52 Church Street, Manchester M4 1PW 


Platt Fields Market Garden Platt Fields Park, Fallowfield, Manchester, M14 6LT

Sao Paulo 51 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6BF


Eat Well Spring Festival Platt Fields Market Garden, Fallowfield, Manchester, M14 6LT

Bungalow at Kampus Aytoun Street, Manchester M1 3GL

Heart and Parcel

Foodie Friday


Bridge Beers 55 Melbourne Street, Staylbridge, SK15 2JJ

Heaton Hops 7 School Lane, Stockport, SK4 5DE

House of Hops 1 Pendlebury Road, Swinton, Manchester, M27 4AG

The Kings Arms 11 Bloom Street, Salford, M3 6AN

Nordie 1044 Stockport Rd, Manchester M19 3WX

Track Taproom Unit 18 Piccadilly Trading Estate, Manchester, M1 2NP

Station Hop 815 Levenshulme Road, Manchester, M19 3BS


Blinker Bar 64-72 Spring Gardens, Manchester, M2 2BQ

Flawd 9 Keepers Quay, Manchester, M4 6GL

Henry C 107 Manchester Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 9GA

Ramona 40 Swan Street, Manchester, M4 5JG

Schofield’s Bar Sunlight House, 3 Little Quay Street, Manchester, M3 3JZ

Speak in Code 7 Jackson’s Row, Manchester, M2 5ND

10 Tib Lane Tib Lane, Manchester, M2 4JB


Baratuxi1 Smithy Street, Ramsbottom, Bury, BL0 9AT

Bar San Juan 56 Beech Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 9EG

The Easy Fish Co 117 Heaton Moor Road, Heaton Moor, SK4 4HY

Nilas Burmese Kitchen 386 Third Avenue, Trafford Park, Stretford, Manchester, M17 1JE

Ornellas Kitchen 10 Manchester Road, Denton, Manchester, M34 3LE

Osma 132 Bury New Road, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 0AA

The Perfect Match 103 Cross Street, Sale, M33 7JN


Ad Hoc 28 Edge St, Manchester, M4 1HN

Chorlton Cheesemongers 486 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 9AS

Hello Oriental Unit 3B South Pavilion 2 Symphony Park, Manchester, M1 7FS

Coopers Lets Fress Deli 70 Bury Old Road, Whitefield, Prestwich, M45 6TL

Le Social Container 147, Pollard Yard, 15 Pollard Street E, Manchester M40 7SL

Out of the Blue 484 Wilbraham Rd, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 9AS

Wandering Palate 191 Monton Road, Eccles, Manchester, M30 9PN


Sponsored by Manchester Evening News

Bull & Bear 4 Norfolk Street, Manchester, M2 1DW

Dishoom 32 Bridge Street, Manchester, M3 3BT

Hawksmoor 184-186, Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3WB

Flawd 9 Keepers Quay, Manchester, M4 6GL

Schofield’s Bar 3 Little Quay Street Sunlight House, Manchester, M3 3JZ

Speak in Code 7 Jackson’s Row, Manchester, M2 5ND

10 Tib Lane Tib Lane, Manchester, M2 4JB


Sponsored by Bruntwood

Another Hand Unit F, 253 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 4EN

The Alan 18 Princess Street, Manchester, M1 4LG

The Black Friar 41-43 Blackfriars Road, Manchester, M3 7DB

Bundobust Brewery St James’ Building, 61-69 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6EQ

Flawd 9 Keepers Quay, Manchester, M4 6GL

Yellowhammer 15 Lower Hillgate, Stockport, SK1 1JQ

10 Tib Lane Tib Lane, Manchester, M2 4JB


Caroline Martins Sao Paulo Project, Blossom Street Social, 51 Blossom St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6AJ

Eddie Shepherd The Walled Garden, Whalley Range

Joseph Otway Flawd, 9 Keepers Quay, Manchester, M4 6GL

Sam Buckley Where the Light Gets In 7 Rostron Brow, Stockport SK1 1JY

Patrick Withington Erst, 9 Murray Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6HS

Adam Reid The French, The Midland Hotel, 16 Peter Street, Manchester M60 2DS

Julian Pizer Another Hand, Unit F, 253 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN


Sponsored by Stephenson’s

10 Tib Lane Tib Lane, Manchester, M2 4JB

Erst 9 Murray Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6HS

The Sparrows 16 Red Bank, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M4 4HF

Another Hand Unit F, 253 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN

Mana 42 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6BF

Where the Light Gets In 7 Rostron Brow, Stockport SK1 1JY

The Firehouse 40 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JG

Cast your mind back a quarter of a century. ‘Craft beer’ didn’t exist, street food was probably a bag of chips and fusion sounded like something electrical. OK, a certain Robert Owen Brown (above) was probably spit-roasting a whole steer in a car park somewhere, but without his carnivore core audience baying for a commentary. How the scene was about to change.

Flash forward to the 25th Manchester Food and Drink Festival (September 15-26) – a landmark event guaranteed, given I’ve been there from the beginning, to make me feel old. As will the climactic Manchester Food and Drink Awards gala dinner. So many of the places I’ve been instrumental in garnering gongs for as a veteran judge are no longer with us.

Melancholy aside, what a remarkable transformation for the better has taken place in our expectations and how they are catered for. This is reflected in the first wave of the 2022 programme, full details of which are on the website. Cathedral Gardens will once again host the free to attend Festival Hub with its array of street food traders and bars…  plus the Artisan Food Market, open from 15th–18th and 22nd–25th from midday to 7pm.

Among the special events and masterclasses my initial enthusiasm is for the first ever Festival Fire Pit Takeover, coming to the Hub for both long weekends. Sponsored by Weber, it will invite some of the region’s best loved chefs to cook over fire. These will include Caroline Martins, founder of the Sao Paolo Project, Fazenda exec chef Francisco Martinez and, yes, Robert Owen Brown.

The Hub will also feature the Octopus Cookbook Confidential demo kitchen on Saturday 24th September in collaboration with the publishing house of that name. Top chefs and industry experts will come together to share their tips and knowledge in cookery demos and debate. Spaces are free but limited and can be booked now.

Best known of the participants is probably telly’s Kate Humble, but my hot tip is don’t miss Jaega Wise, award-winning brewer/TV and radio presenter, going head to head with spirits guru Joel Harrison in conversation with Neil Ridley, subject Beer vs Cocktails.

Away from the festival hub, an array of activities will be taking place across Manchester city centre. Tickets are available to buy here for the Wine and Fizz Festival in a new home that’s the talk of Manchester. It will be the first event to be held in NOMA district’s New Century, currently being repurposed to open as new events hall and food hub from September. Cork of the North, Grape to Grain and sake masters UKiYO Republic re the first names on the team sheet for that kick-off.

Look out, too for a £25 for 25 years menu collaboration for the duration of the festival. Already signed up to provide these menu bargains are District, Embankment Kitchen, Three Little Words, Mi and Pho, Shoryu Ramen, Tast and Society.

The launch of Saison de la Maison, debut beer of Balance at Cafe Beermoth was an excuse for Manchester’s beerati to come out in force. As with the arrival six weeks before (at Port Street Beer House) of another stunning new brewing operation, Sureshot it felt like confirmation the beer scene was sticking its head properly above the parapet. 

The recessionary odds are still stacked against all our breweries surviving the year. Heaven knows my hophead compadres and I are doing out best to support them. Which bring us to the restoration of beer festivals as a thing. From the traditional CAMRA-run variety such as the Stockport Beer Festival (June 16-18) to arguably the UK’s premier ‘craft’ event, Indy Man Beer Con ushering in autumn at Victoria Baths (September 29-October 2).

You’ll get a tempting taster at crafty cousin, Summer Beer Thing (June 24-26), which post-pandemic has decamped to Kampus, where the weekend food options will be a notch up on its previous Pilcrow incarnation. Ballast will be courtesy of Nell’s Pizza, Levanter and recent Kampus arrival  Pollen alongside soon-to-be neighbours Madre and Great North Pie Co. Expect a showcase of diverse beer styles plus cocktails, wine and non-alcoholic tipples, if you must.

Hip rival Mayfield Depot is also getting in on the act by hosting the return of Manchester Craft Beer Festival across the weekend of July 22-23. featuring over 50 top end breweries.

Expect fire pit food and sizzling sounds from Goldie and David Holmes. All a bit high octane for me and to get full value beerwise out of the £55 session ticket you have to be a very canny queue hopper. The likes of Marble, Track and Union Lager are representing Manchester but this is very much a festival brand that straddles several UK cities.

Another metropolitan cuckoo on our patch is Camden Town Brewery, whose latest Tank Party Roadshow is nesting at Escape to Freight Island on Friday, June 24 and Saturday 25.A single brewery tour hardly counts as a festival, even coming with its own raft of DJ and street(ish) food. The selling point is its unfiltered version of Hells Lager with an estimated 23,000 pints being poured ‘fresh from the tank’ during the Party’s parade across the UK. Camden’s owners, ABV Inbev, the world’s largest brewing operation, sure know how to market a very ordinary product.

My own properly indie dream is for a return of our own Cloudwater’s Friends, Family and Beer, which did what it said on the can by bringing to town equally renowned breweries they have collborated with cross the globe. After glitches first time around the sophomore event at Manchester Central in February 2020 was the most exciting beer celbration I’ve ever attended. And the good news? I ran into Cloudwater founder Paul Jones at the Balance launch and he intimated Friends and Family my reassemble in 2023.

Meanwhile, two smaller scale events that are perfect for my modest beer needs.

The first four days in September mark the return of Farm Trip. Venue a hilltop farm-based brewery I have lauded previously – Rivington, high above Horwich. For its outstanding views and brews. The Brewing Co’s first Trip was hastily assembled in 2021; the follow-up more measured, promising 120 beers poured through 41 lines. Do check it out.

Such an exposed spot has it weather risks. That’s not the case with Track’s large and stylish taproom in Ardwick, Manchester and, in case it’s sunny, they’ve just opened a new garden.  The beers, too, are as good as it gets but food offerings have failed to match their quality so far. Until now with the arrival of ‘Disco Cauliflower’ as part of a kitchen takeover (Friday, June 17, 5pm-10pm and Saturday 18, 1pm-10pm) by Liverpool based restaurant group Maray, who are promoting their new Manchester venue in Lincoln Square, set to open this summer. One of those arrivals you file as ‘much anticipated’.

Three of their staple dishes will put in an appearance – their flagship falafel; hummus, chermoula and flatbread; and disco cauliflower (3,000 of these are sold each month in Liverpool). To accompany there’s  collab beer Track have brewed for the new restaurant. Maray PA is described as‘Sunshine caught in a can! Bright zesty lemon gives way to gentle ebbs of white grape and grapefruit for a truly thirst quenching pale ale.” You’ll also be able to buy it in cans from bottle shops in between festivals!


Check individual festival websites for ticket sales. Such is the thirst many sessions are already sold out.

Saturday, October 5, 2019 was a blast. As we staggered out into a blurry Hathersage Road, clutching our souvenir glasses, to let the evening session brigade into Victoria Baths it was ‘see you again next year’ time all round. Little did we know then that the next Indy Man Beer Con would not be for another three years. The scheduled 2020 event never happened as the pandemic put up the shutters on boozy socialising (unless you were in Downing Street).

Now it’s back, the indoor Glastonbury of craft beer on our Manchester doorstep. The dates were announced in March (September 29-October 2) and this week on Thursday, April 14 the tickets go on sale, priced between £14.50 and £19, via this link. I recommend you don’t hang around. There’ll be a huge thirst for this four day event.

Victoria Baths has proved the perfect venue for arguably Britain’s finest beer festival

Early Bird tickets will be available, with both Port Street Beer House in the Northern Quarter, and The Beagle in Chorlton running pre-sale events on Wednesday April, 15 between 6pm and 9pm. To celebrate, the two venues will each be giving free treats out to those in attendance: Port Street will have slices of Nell’s NYC 22” pizza, while The Beagle will be cracking open mystery sharing bottles from past IMBC’s for some free tasters. 

Since its inception in 2012 Independent Manchester Beer Convention (Indy Man Beer Con/IMBC) has proved a world class showcase for the most forward thinking breweries from the UK and beyond. Everything about it (apart from the amount consumed) is different from the traditional beer festival. Not least the venue – the Grade II listed, architectural gem Victoria Baths.

Inclusivity and diversity are part of its appeal. And great street food. This year’s focus on sustainability and environmental awareness of the impact of the brewing industry sees special, cross-Atlantic collaborative brewing and innovative approaches to recycling spent products.

It’s a big step up from that first pioneering IMBC, created by Jonny Heyes, founder of Common & Co (Common, The Beagle, Nell’s Pizza, Summer Beer Thing). Just two rooms were used, hosting only 20 breweries. Nowadays more than 60 breweries will occupy every nook and cranny . From the main ‘stages’ in the old swimming pools to tasting areas and snug bars in the Turkish Baths, the breweries will pour a selection of their beers to thousands of beer lovers and converts alike.

Tickets are available for the following sessions: evenings 17:30-22:30, Thursday/Friday/Saturday; daytimes 11:00-16:00, Friday/ Saturday; and on Sunday 13.00-18.00.

Thanks to Jody Hartley for two of the images.

The Manchester Rum Festival 2022 is on my birthday. Saturday, June 18. No need to bake a cake then – unless it’s laced with an abundance of Plantation Pineapple or the like.

Last year’s event, the fifth, was a gas. The city was awash with thousands of Pride revellers, all just glad to flash the rainbow after months of crossing their legs in lockdown. Not that the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly was some sedate refuge from party central. The rum flowed. As it will again next June, pandemics permitting – at the same venue.

I was so happy to touch base with producers I’d met before in the Caribbean, Colorado or even up on Manchester’s Red Bank. So much jollier than those commercial suburban gin rallies which end with couples just a tonic short of oblivion.

My preview for this website was on the global  peripatetic side. No need to be blase. In 2022 I’m going to be introduced to world’s biggest-selling rum in Tanduay from the Philippines and local newcomers Tameside Distillers. Debuts for Streamertail from Jamaica and Trinidad and Scratch (from tropical Hertfordshire) are also confirmed by festival organiser Dave Marsland. No idea but I’m willing to give them a sip. Whatever, live dangerously. Buy tickets here.

Salford Rum pop-up

Meanwhile, if you are feeling ‘rum-bunctuous’, there’s a Christmas-themed bar from the Salford Rum Company called Bar Rumbug, launching on Thursday, December 2. It’s located at their forthcoming Dirty Old Town Distillery and rum garden at Arch 33 on Viaduct Street, Salford and will be open throughout December, Wednesdays to Sundays (12pm-12am). 

It’s too easy to pin ‘Magnificent’ to Obsession but it’s a perfect fit for Northcote’s gourmet festival. For over two decades, with ever-starrier line-ups of guest chefs, it has lit up the depths of January. Last year, alas, the lights went out as the shadow of Covid cancelled all hospitality.

Now it’s storming back, ambition undimmed, from January 21 to February 6 2022 at the Michelin-starred Ribble Valley stalwart. Caution remains with an absence of global big hitters but this is more than made up for by 16 chefs, with 15 stars under their belt, from the UK and Ireland.

In announcing the cast of Obsession 22 Northcote exec chef Lisa Allen was quick to point out the big plus of this approach and I’m inclined to agree. After a torrid 18 months and more for the industry, and with staffing and supply headaches that won’t go away let’s celebrate ‘our own’. Their world class quality but also their energy and durability in the circumstances.

Not that there’s anything remotely parochial about the schedule below, tickets for which go on sale on Tuesday, September 28. It ranges from the high profile Michelin likes (above) of Matt Abe (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay), Simon Rogan (L’Enclume) to Obsession newcomers Roberta Hall McCarron from Edinburgh and Jordan Bailey from Co KIldare (below) alongside familiar telly faces Tom Kerridge and James Martin. Bailey, who runs two Michelin-starred Aimsir with his wife Majken, particularly intrigues me. Once a key part of the Restaurant Sat Bains team, he was later head chef at 3-star Michelin Maaemo in Oslo before they moved to Ireland in 2018.

As is traditional, Lisa Allen kicks off the 14 days of dinners on January 21 and she returns for a formidable female Grande Finale on February, when she teams up with Monica Galette and Nieves Barragan Mohacho.

The lineup: 

  • Fri Jan 21: Lisa Goodwin Allen, Northcote, Ribble Valley (1 star) 
  • Sat Jan 22: Matt Abe, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London (3 stars) 
  • Sun Jan 23: Mickael Viljanen, Chapter One (previously The Greenhouse), Dublin  
  • Mon Jan 24: Jordan Bailey, Aimsir, County Kildare (2 stars) 
  • Tue Jan 25: Simon Rogan & Tom Barnes, L’Enclume, Cumbria (2 stars) 
  • Wed Jan 26: Roberta Hall McCarron, The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh 
  • Thu Jan 27: Alex Bond, Alchemilla, Nottingham (1 star) 
  • Fri Jan 28: Galton Blackiston, Morston Hall, Norfolk (1 star) 
  • Sat Jan 29: Hrishikesh Desai, Gilpin Hotel & Lakehouse, Cumbria (1 star) 
  • Sun Jan 30: Kenny Atkinson, House of Tides, Newcastle (1 star)  
  • Wed Feb 2: James Martin, celebrity chef and TV presenter 
  • Thu Feb 3: Tom Kerridge, The Hand & Flowers, Marlow (2 stars) 
  • Fri Feb 4: Atul Kochhar, Atul Kochhar Restaurants, London  
  • Sun Feb 6, Grande Finale feat Monica Galetti, Mere, London; Nieves Barragan Mohacho, Sabor, London (1 star); Lisa Goodwin Allen, Northcote, Ribble Valley (1 star) 

Lisa said; “Obsession 22 is particularly special. After having to cancel this year’s festival due to the pandemic and with the hospitality industry taking such a hit, we’re all ready to put on a show of culinary brilliance. This year it was only right to bring all corners of Britain and Ireland together, focusing on the incredible talent that we have on our shores, but still with an injection of different styles of cooking, different regional ingredients and different flavours. We have some great emerging chefs like Alex Bond, and much-loved household names, as well as some of the UK’s best female chefs, joining us.”  

Tickets for Obsession 22 go on sale on September 28 and are priced at £160 per person, including a Louis Roederer Champagne and canapé reception, five course menu, coffee and petit fours. A specially paired wine flight can be added, starting from around £65 per person. For more information visit this link.  VIP hospitality packages are available to book for six or more people in the Louis Roederer Room or at the Chef’s Table, from £2,350 + VAT. A few lucky (and swift) guests might be able to book one of Northcote’s 25 boutique bedrooms. Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE. 01254 240555. Here’s my review of Northcote’s five-course tasting menu.

The Manchester Food and Drink Festival kicks off on Thursday, September 16 with the full raucous backing at the Cathedral Gardens Hub of Mr Wilson’s Secondliners (above). As usual the Festival is packed with events and should profit from a huge public appetite for some kind of tasty ‘new normal’. Here is my choice of five very special MFDF opportunities to enjoy yourself and support a resurgent hospitality industry…

Bull & Bear Festival Hub Takeover, Cathedral Gardens, 7pm, Mon, Sep 20. £55. 

Tom Kerridge’s posh operation in the Stock Exchange Hotel will will be bringing the pub to the hub on Monday 20 September for a three-course feast with music, too. Expect potted Loch Duart salmon with apple jelly and cucumber chutney to start and a braised beef and cheese pie with English mustard for your main and a pud of banana custard with dates, pistachio and honeycomb. The Festival Beer Bar is there to add to the pub experience.

MFDF x Eat Well Dinner, Mana, Blossom Street. Tue Sep 21. £200.

This is the big one – a collab between some of the city’s finest chefs at its only Michelin-starred establishment, all to raise money for Eat Well, a social enterprise tackling food poverty in Manchester. Participating are Mana’s own Simon Martin, Mary-Ellen McTague (The Creameries), Ben Humphries (District), Eddie Shepherd (Walled Garden) and Anna Søgaard (Erst), each preparing one course. Tickets go on sale Friday, September 10. 25 spots only are available. Book here.

Elnecot x It’s Alive Supper Club, Blossom Street. 6pm onwards. Tue Sep 21. £65.

Much-loved Ancoats pioneer Elnecot are joined by their wine suppliers It’s Alive for a menu inspired by the British Isles. Natural wines will be paired with the likes of a Yorkshire hogget broth, a surf and turf and a rendang doughnut.

Tast Meets The Macallan, Tast, King Street. 6.30pm Thu Sep 23. £125. 

Exec chef Paco Perez and head chef Julià Castelló have designed a five-course gastronomic tasting menu that includes octopus, oysters, autumn rice with mushrooms, cheese and figs plus poussin, beetroot and truffle. There’ll also be one limited-edition Macallan whisky that pairs with this feast. Choose Barcelona but also choose Scotland via Manchester. Choose a ticket that costs £125.

Sustainable Wine Evening, Open Kitchen Cafe & Bar. 7pm, Thu Sep 23. £28.

Launching a run of seasonal events, Open Kitchen, inside the People’s History Museum, showcase a selection of wines from the Bolney Estate in Kent, a winery known for its sustainable land management since 1972. Taste six wines across the evening (I particularly recommend the Lychgate red) with table snacks and a wider small plates menu available to purchase.

Check out our preview of MFDF – Manchester’s Biggest Chippy Tea Is In The Bag and Your Vote Counts for Everything for a full list of MFDF Awards nominees. For the latest updates on the programme (Sept 16-27) and to vote for your favourites off the shortlists visit the MFDF website.

Hard to credit now but back in December 2019 Saint Lucia was the last foreign country I visited – before Covid turned the world upside down. There I consolidated my passion for rum. It will be consummated once again on Saturday, August 28 when Manchester Rum Festival makes its belated return. Among the many treasures to taste will be Saint Lucia’s own Chairman’s Reserve, Four Square from Barbados, Montanya from Colorado and our own Diablesse, all of which have been staging posts on my rum journey, which began among the sugar cane plantations of the Caribbean.


The two hour west coast road trip north from Soufriere to Castries is a clifftop, hairpin bend rollercoaster ride, requiring  strong nerves at the wheel (taxi recommended). En route, the views are fabulous, the fishing villages of Anse La Raye and Canaries worth a quirky stop-off, our only regret we hadn’t time to detour to picturesque Marigot Bay.

Inland consolation, a ‘Rhythm of Rum’ tour of St Lucia Distillers. The island no longer produces commercial quantities of sugar cane, importing molasses from Guyana or Barbados and this is the only producer left but the quality is high from the core brand Chairman’s Reserve upwards. At the end of the hourlong tour you get to sample their 20 or so products and access discounts on purchases at the Rhum Shoppe.

Dave Marsland, organiser of the Rum Festival, also happens to be UK brand ambassador for Chairman’s Reserve. His favourite of the range? “It would be Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Cask. It’s smooth with plenty of the ex-American oak barrel flavours coming through, whether I drink it straight, with coconut water or as an Old Fashioned. Works fantastic with cigars too.”

My own? The real knockout is the Denros Strong Rum – 80% ABV, 160º proof. Well maybe  not a tot on a school night.


Rum’s heartland is the northern parishes. Historic plantations still dot the landscape in various states of desuetude. Movable wooden worker’s dwellings called chattel houses add to the sense of transience. The clue to where all the sugar cane fields once were are the windmills. 

In 1846 the island had more than 500 – only Holland had a greater density – and the remaining mills, in whatever state, are all now under a preservation order. The Barbados National Trust maintain the  Morgan Lewis Working Mill. in the parish of St Andrew’s. From December to April visitors can see cane ground into juice there.

Under 10 minutes away and much more enjoyably hands on is St Nicholas Abbey, the island’s best historic day out. One of only three Jacobean mansions left in the whole Americas, the gabled old house set among mahogany trees summons up the ghosts of those early plantation owners with its museum addressing the slave issue, while current owners the Warren family lovingly preserve the old rum-making methods in a boutique distillery they set up a decade ago.

So you get a steam-powered cane crush and a traditional pot still, using cane for the syrup that’s unique to the 400 acre estate, half of which is under sugar cultivation. The quest for a premium quality spirit was consolidated by enlisting the advice – and starter rums – of Richard Seale, owner of the island’s multi award-winning Foursquare distillery.

So the older rums (10 years) we tasted with Larry Warren after our tour originated at Foursquare before being barrel-aged at the Abbey, most of whose own rums still need to serve their time in oak. There’s no church connection, by the way; Abbey’s just a landowner’s affectation from way back. 


The little town of Crested Butte is not as glamorous as Rockies mecca Telluride. Indeed the folksy mountain charm is it selling point alongside – for me – its rum distillery. Whoa! We a long way from sugar plantations, so why did Karen Hoskin decided to set up Montanya Distillers here on Main Street? It’s the pure mountain water apparently that is the key, the stuff that makes spring so special.

So the flowers were in full spate in the high meadows above Crested Butte 150 miles north of Telluride. Like its rival destination, this former coal mining town is divided into a ski resort village and the original settlement below, rescued by hippies in the Seventies and still not insufferably gentrified. 

I loved its bookshops and coffee hang-outs, kids selling homemade lemonade on the streets and, above all Montanya, for its sustainable ethos and the quality of its acclaimed small batch product. Rum sounds an odd drink to be making in the mountains but owner Karen Hoskin believes the 9,000ft altitude helps the progress. 

“Our non-GMO sugar cane comes from family farmers in Louisiana, who grow and mill for us,” she says. “ Our water comes from one of the purest spring and snowmelt charged aquifers in the USA. Our rums are made by hand, from scratch, in a very traditional way using alembic copper pot stills from Portugal.”

One bonus of booking a Montanya tour is you get a complimentary cocktail in the garden bar. Karen discovered her taste for rum in Goa – try her signature, spicy Maharaja. You may never leave.


South Manchester is the least exotic rum address I know, but then Cleo Farman has always taken the Odd route. That was the name of her pioneering NQ bar on Thomas Street. That spawned Odder and Oddest and then they all all faded away leaving ebullient Cleo with the kind of midlife crisis we’d all want when she decamped back to the Caribbean where she had once worked for Richard Branson on Neckar Island. Retrenchment meant nine months researching rum blends, out of which arose in early 2019 her own bespoke blends.

They bear the name Diablesse – inspired  by a Caribbean folklore spook, La Diablesse, born human but turned demonic after a pact with the Devil. Makes for a striking bottle  label. They say you should use a long spoon to sup with the Devil. 

Diablesse Caribbean Rum (40% abv) is Cleo’s benchmark blend of three distinctive rums, serious stuff, while Diablesse Clementine Spiced Rum (42.3%) is a crowd-pleasing demerara rum from the Diamond Distillery, flavoured with clementine and a spice mix of spice mix of vanilla pod, ginger, cinnamon, cinnamon and clove.

Lovely glugger the latter, but it is the Caribbean Rum that really makes you sit up and pay attention. Some canny blending has gone into its creation with a major contribution to its complexity and smoothness coming from ageing in American bourbon barrels. No added sugar or caramel either.

Manchester Rum Festival 2021 will be going ahead on Saturday August 28, 12pm-7pm at new venue Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel. Check out the full list of rums via this link. I suspect it may be a sell-out even after a handful of extra tickets were squeezed out. Priced £30 + booking fee, please check here.