The famously thirsty MCFly talks to Jonathan Hartley of Manchester Brewing Co-operative, which is holding a beer festival in Levenshulme on Saturday 12th May. MCFly will be there, conducting extensive research. PS Latest MCFly out now.
When did you become established as a coop? whose idea was it?
When our founding member, Josh, found some old brewing equipment wasting away in a skip, the thought occurred to turn those discarded fermenters into fermenters of purpose! And so, with a thirst for knowledge, and for tasty brews, the cooperative journey began. Now, from the ‘skip-day’ to present, we have been joined by knowledgeful brewers as well as brewers to be, underpinning a support network for anyone interested in learning how to ‘brew it yourself’!
What have you done so far?
So far, we have primarily become a support network for anyone who is interested in learning how to brew beer, make wines or ciders and where to find the ingredients as locally as possibly; from local grains, to berries, fruits and infusing ingredients available as foraged ingredients, we have taught ourselves and each the whereabouts and particularly the abundance of locally available produce. Having accumulate a lot of equipment, we now have several ‘brew boxes’ which are the complete package of equipment and ingredients paired with a knowledgeable brewer to help you with your first brew. This has been promoted at all of our free workshops (primarily during the apple harvest time of year) comprising brew workshops, wine and cider pressing days. We believe in making use of local produce and particularly, produce that would otherwise be wasted. Last Autumn, we were lucky enough to have a whole orchard’s apples donated to us by a local farmer as well as apples collected from abandoned trees all around Manchester with which we were able to make around 350L of cider. The ‘pressing’ days were not only productive in a cider sense but also in getting a group of individuals, many of whom had never met before, to cooperatively put their time and energy into pressing pure, fresh apple juice. The resulting cider has been used particularly in charitable fundraising events (the last one at the OKasional cafe raising around £800) through donations to a cause, with gratitude expressed through a bottle of FREE cider. Naturally, we can’t and don’t sell any alcohol we make.
What efforts have you made to minimise the “carbon footprint” of your ingredients (hops, barley…) are they locally sourced, or are overseas sources actually better?
Hops are difficult to get locally, as they don’t cope well in our northern climate. They do grow in England, even in the north, but are very hard to grow and don’t yield high amounts of useable crop. This is something that we are looking into for future projects, perhaps building – to grow in etc. However, grains are very much available locally and we would source this as close to home as is possible. As I mentioned before, we make a lot of seasonal drinks and our ciders and wines are all made from foraged/donated ingredients, using produce (that is in abundance) that would other wise go to waste. We believe that if we can make a load of cider for people to drink and enjoy, when they find out all of the apples were destined to compost, they might notice the sheer abundance of fruit available on their doorstep.. and with our foraging days, we would like to expand upon that realisation and show local residents exactly where to get this produce (even produce that has nothing to do with beverage craft will be demonstrated).
What environmental policies do you have in place, what are the difficulties in becoming “greener”?
We always bottle our beers and reuse the bottles over and over again. Re-using glass is obviously much more effective than recycling so this is an obvious first step to maintaining good environmental practice. As I mentioned, hops are hard to come by locally, a good range of hops at least. So we would like to eventually be growing our own, or build a link with local farmers to grow specifically for us and other breweries. We have a strict ‘zero isinglass’ policy. to explain, isinglass is a filtration additive to clear out the beer which is in fact made from the internals of a particular fish. Believe it or not but a very large proportion of commercial beers are not vegan, let alone vegetarian. Using traditional methods and ‘racking’ for longer, and ‘dropping’ the beer several times clears out the beer very naturally. A little more time taken over this process saves a lot of fish and a lot of money… a no brainer really!
One of our primary goals is to become a registered brewery that can sell our products to local pubs and bars, the profits of which will be reinvested into other sustainable, local projects, effectively turning the sustainable pub trade into a lucrative fund-raiser for charity. We can also gently persuade local establishments to go’ greener’ by offering our stock cheaper if they fulfill certain criteria, offering a good incentive for eg, a cafe/bar to compost (locally) all of their coffee and green waste by offering a 10% per cask if we can see evidence of this happening.
What links do you have with other beer cooperatives in other parts of the UK? What lessons have you learnt from them? And, most importantly, do your products taste good?!
As of yet, we do not have any links with any other beer cooperatives in the UK. There are a few cooperative brewery pubs in our networks but not really anything to do with us. To be honest, all though we have been established for a year and a half now, things have really started to pick up in only the last 6-8 months with many more members joining, several BIG workshops, sustainability conference and a massive fundraising brew (around 450L of beer, 200L cider!) we haven’t had time to really make many links with other coops. Im not that sure that many exist? We have made a lot of links with local micro-breweries, especially as some of our members work in the pub trade, and this festival too has introduced us to many fine local brewers.
The main thing that we have learned from them is more to do with branding, promotion. remember, we are a cooperative of people who simply love beers and ciders, and what a cooperative often has is many members. So we are collectively trying and tasting and continually being inspired by so many of our members individual beer/pub related experiences. This has led to us having a very powerful think tank where we can all try variations of, say, a west coast American IPA. We achieve that near perfect recipe quickly because we collectively trial many different variations on the same recipe, record the all, and publish the results. So, I can only say, in answer to your last question, come down on the 12th of May and see for yourself! We have a beautiful chocolate and vanilla stout, a curried ginger beer as well as some traditional classics to try (not buy!).