Tuesday, 24 June 2014 11:19

The Font, Manchester

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Font Manchester 6The Font, Manchester

0161 236 0944

Website

Font is a Manchester mainstay - a constant in a bar scene that has continually morphed and evolved around it over the past 15 years.

It's become part of the furniture without pandering to trends or letting itself become defined by a particular crowd or style.

Personally, I've frequented Font since my days as a degenerate student, when a good pint was the one glass of Kronenbourg that didn't have a fag dimp in it.

Back then, the appeal was the games console in the corner that allowed me to continue my Pro Evo marathon even after I'd been forced to leave the house.

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Luckily, I've matured since then and so has Font, even if deep down neither of us have changed all that much.

In the case of Font, the games console is gone and the beer selection has expanded to include four ever-changing cask lines and four guest keg lines, alongside their regulars and a superb bottle selection from around the world.

On top of that, there's a huge range of cocktails that don't require you to take out a second mortgage and the food is straightforward but satisfying and very reasonably priced. The burgers, in particular, are good for filling a hole at the start of a night out and will set you back just £7, which includes a portion of fries.

But the most appealing thing about Font is its lack of pretension.

It's not quite a dive bar but it's rough and ready, sparse yet welcoming, consequently attracting a varied array of punters.

It's a place where you'd be equally happy whiling away the afternoon hours with a paper and a pint of session cask as you would sampling a few bottles of 10% ABV barleywine at the height of a big night out.

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It's also become a crucial point on any Mancunian 'craft crawl', providing a handy link between the ever increasing wonders of the Northern Quarter and the student haunts of Oxford Road or the old-school beer destinations of Knott Bar and Cask.

Not that it isn't a destination in its own right. This is usually the best place in town to find Moor's outstanding beers on draught and a good bet for bottles of Partizan, Kernel and Weird Beard.

Hopefully it'll still be somewhere to rely on another 15 years from now.

Thursday, 05 September 2013 12:08

Propping up the bar: Jonny Heyes, Port Street Beer House

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Jonny HeyesJonny Heyes, owner of Manchester's Port Street Beer House, features in the first of Beer Battered's Propping up the Bar series, focusing on the people behind our favourite watering holes.

Port Street Beer House has been credited with sparking a sea change in Mancunian drinking habits.

Although our fair city harbours a long, proud tradition for brewing and imbibing, the unassuming Northern Quarter watering hole has significantly upped the stakes.

Over the past three years, it has brought some of the world's best beers and brewers to Manchester, introducing casual drinkers to the kind of rarities previously available to only the most devoted beer hunter.

Before Port Street opened its doors in 2010, no other bars had dared to be quite so adventurous in the range and variety of their beer offerings. Since then, a host of venues have followed its lead by drastically expanding their 'craft' offerings.

It speaks volumes when you suddenly begin stumbling across cans of Modus Hoperandi on a night out or when bottles of Schlenkerla Rauchbier magically appear in previously uninspired beer fridges.

Yet one man, Port Street's owner Jonny Heyes, takes a more humble view of the bar's impact.

"It hasn't really been difficult finding an audience in Manchester," he says. "I think we're standing on the shoulders of giants with Marble around the corner, Knott Fringe and plenty of others.

"They've been paving the way for many years, so we wanted to make sure we had an offering which brought something different to the mix and didn't just replicate what was already there. For example, we didn't stock any Marble beers for the first year or so, our view being that if you want Marble no-one's going to do it better than them.

"The motivation for setting up Port Street was a mixture of doing something I was really interested in, as well as feeling that there was a real groundswell of new stuff happening in the beer world and a growing demand for somewhere to access it."

Before branching out with Port Street, Jonny successfully cut his teeth at quirky Edge Street drinking den Common, now a cornerstone of Northern Quarter nightlife.
Initial attempts to expand the beer selection were tentative, limited by a lack of space and ready supply.

But, motivated by a pre-existing passion for good beer, Jonny and his team slowly but surely built on their offering, their experience acting as a helpful barometer to gauge the demand for a bar in the Port Street mould.

Having gained encouragement from the initial response, it was then just a case of finding the right premises - no mean feat when it is also essential to escape pubco and brewery ties.

"We'd always wanted to have a selection of great beer but always struggled for space," says Jonny. "We used to have Marble beers in bottles and I used to love Lagonda IPA... Still do.

"Then eventually, we got a bigger cellar at Common and finally had room to put in a stillage and serve some great cask ale, along with finding some new suppliers for never before seen - to our eyes - American craft beer. It was kind of useful before opening Port Street because it gave us a chance to gauge the demand.

"But there wasn't really anything in particular that convinced us to open Port Street, we just found a premises that we thought would be perfect for it.

"We wouldn't have the business we have today if we were tied so that was vital really. But it's pretty frightening seeing the bills roll in for a cellar fit-out and all those bits that a brewery would cover."

In the years since, a dizzying list of beers have crossed the bar at Port Street, providing the geeks among us with the right tools to help scratch that persistent itch. After all, this was the bar that gave me my first taste of draft Mikkeller and Toccalmatto and got me hooked on Kernel's Double Citra.

Consequently, picking a favourite has become an impossible task.

"There's too many to possibly pick one," admits Jonny. "My top three from the recent weeks is MacFannybaw by Against the Grain, First Frontier by Tø Øl and we've just had some great beers delivered by Cromarty which I love, AKA IPA a particular favourite."

And when it comes to favourite moments, the simple pleasures still seem to hold most sway.

Jonny says, "There have been lots, to be honest, but some of the events we've done have been great and we've been graced by some real greats of the brewing world, like Garrett Oliver, Matt Brophy and Bruno from Toccalmatto.

"But more than that I like just sitting in the corner quietly nursing a pint watching people having a nice time."

However, despite Port Street's obvious impact, Jonny still believes Manchester has some catching up to do, particularly when compared to the capital.

The emergence of Blackjack and Quantum, among others, has helped to contribute to a healthier, more varied brewing scene but the city still lacks the sheer concentration of microbreweries that can now be found in London. In Hackney alone, there are six or seven within spitting distance of one another and yet more seem to emerge every month.

"I'd like to see some more little breweries popping up," says Jonny. "If you look at the growth of new breweries in London at the moment we are lagging behind somewhat. Saying that, there's quite a few popped up recently, 6 'o' Clock being one and Mad Hatter from Liverpool too.

"There's maybe some room for bars still but I'd be tempted to say it's more a case of existing bars absorbing a greater craft beer range into their existing operation. It's pretty straight forward to do.

"I think it's very telling that not many new bars are opening without a hand pull and some craft beers in the fridge."

A situation that cannot fail to delight the average Mancunian beer lover.

Friday, 30 August 2013 11:45

Port Street Beer House

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portst 10 2011 by smatthes 31Port Street Beer House, Manchester

0161 237 9949

Website

(Photos by Sebastian Matthes)

Here's a message for any self-respecting Mancunian beer geek who hasn't yet visited Port Street Beer House: you better check yo' self before you wreck yo' self, foo!

Or, at least, that's what I imagine Ice Cube would say if he suddenly developed a penchant for good beer and relocated to the north west of England.

In other words, what on earth do you think you're playing at?

Port Street Beer House has long been the Manchester beer lover's Mecca, offering the best of both worlds for anybody professing to enjoy a hops and barley-based beverage.

If cask is your obsession, there are seven constantly changing handpulls to tickle your fancy. And if you're a bit more relaxed in your method of serve then more power to you - 18 keg lines and more than a hundred bottles from every corner of the globe are your reward. Never mind whether you're from Manchester or Mandalay, it's well worth the pilgrimage.

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But, beyond the obvious appeal for beer geeks, Port Street has become a popular destination because it successfully blurs the line between pub and bar, combining the casual bonhomie of the traditional boozer with a bright, energetic atmosphere.

It's the kind of place where the misanthrope can scurry into some secluded corner and hide behind the day's paper with just a pint for company. Equally, it provides the more socially-willing with suitable surroundings for a friendly gathering if they find it necessary to detract from the serious business of imbibing.

The upstairs saloon and outdoor seating area relieve the pressure on the main bar, ensuring there's usually somewhere to pull up a pew. So, even when the place throngs with enthusiastic patrons, atmosphere never comes at the expense of conversation, unlike so many other bars where attempts at human interaction are drowned out by thudding bass from a sub-standard sound system.

Consequently, it's that rare thing, a venue focused almost entirely on the quality and variety of its beer where my long-suffering girlfriend also feels comfortable. The wine list is small but of sufficient quality to stifle any potential frustrations and even if she did feel inclined to explore the beer menu, the knowledgeable bar staff would be well-placed to make an appropriate recommendation.

It's a constant bugbear that so many self-appointed 'craft beer bars' provide the selection yet fail to support it with the requisite expertise. I've twice ordered at another Manchester bar, which shall remain nameless, only to be asked 'what's that?' It defeats the point of having bar staff when you virtually have to grab the bottle from the fridge yourself.

portst 10 2011 by smatthes 25
The crew at Port Street know their stuff without ever coming across as smug or arrogant and this educative approach is carried across into the regular meet the brewer events, which have attracted everyone from Brooklyn's Garrett Oliver to a number of local heroes.

At the centre of it all is a pure, unadulterated love and respect for the art of brewing - something that had rarely been seen in Manchester before it opened its doors in 2010.

Sure, pubs like the Marble Arch and Knott Bar are equally fundamental pillars of the Manchester beer scene, but none have attempted to change the attitudes of the city's drinkers in quite the same way.

Conversations I've had with non-beer obsessives seem to suggest they Port Street has succeeded in chipping away at some of the more entrenched habits by encouraging experimentation through exposure to different beers.

You can only hope they've blazed a trail for many more to follow.