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Neil Sowerby’s January '14 Beer Column

Is Macc the best ale town around?

Written by . Published on January 20th 2014.

Neil Sowerby’s January '14 Beer Column

IT’s funny how things turn out. My reason for trekking out to Macclesfield was to honour a long-standing invitation to RedWillow – Toby and Catherine McKenzie’s exemplary craft brewery.

Honest, I had no idea that Silkville was such a beer drinker’s paradise and that several hours later, as I jumped on a posh cross-country train back to Piccadilly (a mere 20 minute journey), I had still only scratched the hoppy, malty surface. Such was my euphoria, I could have been whisked away on a caravanserai to Samarkand on that other Silk Road.  

 The Way To Samarkand-


The Way To Samarkand


Macc was pretty quiet that night of revelations – Town were at Sheffield Wednesday getting thumped 4-1 in an FA Cup replay and tumbleweed cascaded down chilly Sunderland Street. Yet it still seemed welcoming. There are so many decent watering holes you can easily avoid any Big Screen Sky with John Smith Smooth mantraps. 

Take the Treacle Tap. Bar not pub. Though such is the blurring of the lines these days it has won the local CAMRA pub of the season on at least one occasion. Laura Marling on the sound system, a pastiche Soviet Realist mural, boards detailing French and Spanish conversation evenings and the Tap’s knitting group, establishes the tone.

Treacle Tap

Treacle Tap

There’s a wide-ranging, if a mite conservative, bottled beer menu and three handpumps, on this occasion dispensing Tatton Blonde, Marble Pint and, our choice because of its novelty – the 5.5ABV Urban IPA from new Welsh brewers Tiny Rebel. Using a mix of Old and New World hops, it is very distinctive, marrying resinous and herbal notes with a caramel finish. 

The TT is a place to sit with a contemplative pint and a newspaper, which was what exactly all the punters seemed to be doing. After the necessary constrictions there, the new RedWillow bar on Park Green brought out the agoraphobic in me.

There is so much space between the leather Chesterfields in the big windows to the booths along the far wall, you could easily arrange en masse line dancing(not that I’m recommending that sort of thing). On the way to the lavish toilets with their copper features you encounter cinema style pull down seating. Paintings and pot plants add to the calculated quirkiness. 

It’s a conversion of an expansive former Co-op furniture store and retains a hint of Hyacinth Bucket meets Art Deco, though it now has the feel of one of those great Continental railway station buffets (but note that cheese or charcuterie platters at £9.20 are the only food on offer for the moment).



The large LED screen behind the long bar is advertising not the next Compagnie des Wagons Lits departure for Menton but the 20 draught beers on offer – five from hand-pump, 15 from key-keg dispenser, many from the RedWillow range but also offering the likes of SummerWine, Kernel and Blackjack. 

With our shared cheese platter we supped Homeless, the crisp, foaming Pils Toby has specially brewed for lager-demanding punters at the bar, rather than source an inferior national brand. His Smokeless smoked porter (5.7ABV) offered less of the Chipotle chilli heat I recall or the moreish smoothness. The 7.2ABV Ageless IPA hit the spot more, dense and bitter, all citrus and bitter marmalade belying its toffee nose. At £3.30 a half (compared with £1.80 for the Homeless) it should be this glorious. 

Hopheads at home have never had it so good. Northern Quarter specialists Beermoth won retailer of the year at the Manchester Food and Drink Awards 2013; Macc’s answer is Brewtique on Church Street, one of Macc’s cute cobbly corners.

This global beer emporium (with cigars) is the latest brainchild of the charismatic Chris Stairmand, licensee of The Wharf on Brook Street, Cheshire Pub of the Year 2013. The the central bar is painted to reference a narrowboat (Macc’s Marina is down the road) and there are five handpumps. As well as their own Wharf Bitter you can expect a changing array of guests from Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Dark Star and, naturally, RedWillow, whose brewery is a 10 minute (uphill) walk away. 

Established  on the site of the old Stancliffe Brewery, one of Macc’s largest, which closed in 1920, it’s a compact powerhouse of craft beer innovation. After only three years in existence,  it has come on apace. Bottles of their Tilting Ale grace Virgin Trains; they have launched the aforementioned bar with perhaps more to follow one day; while all those beers ending in “less” (Fearless, Wreckless, Headless etc and the experimental Faithless range) have all proved Less is More across the land.  

Caroline And Toby Mackenzie %26#8211%3B The Posh And Becks Of Craft Ale


Caroline and Toby Mackenzie


It’s a year ago that Toby, conducting a beer tasting at the Northern Restaurant Bar Show, introduced me to his latest Faithless brew, showcasing beetroot.

Now at the brewery he is dipping into an improved version, Faithless XXX in mid-brew. It’s muddy and lacks the vivid purple of Mark 1 but it has a sweet purity that is quite beguiling.

Caroline presses a bottle of Faithless XXVI  – a Belgian style Gooseberry Sour, at just 3.6 per cent, that I later pair with grilled mackerel and tomatillo salsa. It’s a brilliant match; but the beer on its own, like a lambic, is an acquired taste.

A bottle of Shameless IPA, in contrast, shamelessy offers a taste we all seemed to have acquired – for extremes of hoppiness. RedWillow did famously overdose on New World hops in one experimental brew that had to be poured away, but Shameless works, reeking of pine and rasping with bitterness. One-dimensional but quenching. 

Collaborations are all the range and RedWillow has linked up with Italian maverick Pietro Di Pilato’s BrewFist in Lombardy to produce the bottled More Or Less Amber Ale. Pietro came over late last year for a Meet The Brewer masterclass in the bar. The Amber Ale that came out of the trip is a masterly example – Pale, Carared and Chocolate malts hopped with Centennial Simcoe and Amarillo. Toasty caramel, grapefruit with a long hoppy, bitter finish here. Magical. Snap up a bottle if you can. You may have to head to Macc, though.

A necessary pilgrimage for the beer lover these days. 

Macclesfield seen through a pint pot... 

RedWillow Brewery, Unit 5, Artillery House, Gunco Lane, Macclesfield

RedWillow Bar, 32A Park Green 

Treacle Tap, 43 Sunderland Street  

The Wharf, 107 Brook Street

Brewtique, 17 Church Street 

Oh and, if your thirst is still not quenched, why not also try.... 

Park Tavern, 138 Park Lane. Brewery tap of Bollington Brewery offers a full range of their beers and a lot more besides.  

The Macc,1 Mill Green, a seven-handpump real ale stalwart en route to RedWillow Brewery 

Storm Brewing, in operation for 15 years, produces 17 different beers. Visit the brewery tasting room and they’ll serve you from a restored pulpit. Or sample the beers at the Snowgoose Cafe Bar, 52-54 Sunderland Street.  

Storm Brewery Tap


Storm Brewery Tap

Just opposite at No.63, the Jolly Sailor does Copper Dragon and Everards Tiger. The building dates back to the 1830s when one of the lodgers killed himself with a laudanum overdose (the 19th century’s version of hops?) 

The Waters Green Tavern, 96 Waters Green, offers a changing roster of six northern ales, often of the light and hoppy persuasion.  

Big beer news in the big city is the Manchester Beer And Cider Festival (January 22-25 at the Velodrome).

IPA time

IPA time

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AnonymousJanuary 21st 2014.

But you still have to go to Macc......I wouldn't recommend after dark.

MacWregJanuary 21st 2014.

The answer is obviously 'Yes' - we've been trying to keep it a secret though!

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