Collaboration beers are especially popular among the new generation of craft brewers, often across national boundaries, and have produced some fascinating results. But here’s one that crosses the generations, bringing together one of Britain’s leading old established independent breweries with one of its most impressive new arrivals, and also connecting two of the country’s greatest cities. It’s a beer that brought John Keeling, who has kept London’s Fuller’s in the first rank of world breweries, back to his native Manchester to create something rather special with James Campbell at the innovative Marble brewery.
Old Manchester Ale – “I like this beer because it’s like me, old and from Manchester!” comments John – is actually partly inspired by a London beer, Fuller’s own ESB, a favourite at Marble for its mix of juicy malt and assertive hops. When it was introduced in 1971, ESB replaced a long established Burton ale, not a light coloured India-style pale but a darker, sweeter beer in a style that originated in Burton but was once commonly brewed across England. It seems possible that ESB inherited some of its predecessor’s characteristics with its deep colour and rich maltiness.
Old Manchester turns the ESB volume control up a little and brings some twists of its own. It’s notably higher in gravity, and hopped with English Challenger, although I suspect some piny US hops have been included too. Both hop character and smoothness have been underlined by dry hopping the beer in cask and maturing for three months before bottle conditioning in Marble’s handsome Bordeaux-style bottles.
The beer is a lovely nut-brown colour with hints of amber, and a fine foamy light beige head. A beautifully fruity aroma has piney hop notes which, alongside the toffeeish, biscuity malt character, made me think of a modern US brown ale. There’s a grapefruit note on the palate which is dead dry and biscuity, though still contrives to be toffeeish, with a few lightly charred and burnt rubber hints, subtley softened by tasty fruit.
The biscuity quality persists in a finish where the piney notes recede under more fruit and a lingering peppery hop bite, lightly warming alcohol and some late candy notes. The beer is available in limited quantities – I found mine at the Pigs Ear beer festival but it’s also stocked by Marble and at the Fuller’s Brewery Shop.