We want to shake things up, if we can. The whole thing is like a peleton – you know, with guys like the Kernel and Magic Rock – and we want to do our turn at the front…
Paul Jones is fairly softly-spoken, but he’s also a keen and compelling speaker when it comes to the subject of his new operation, Manchester’s Cloudwater Brew Co. The above quote – one of many from a hugely interesting meet the brewer event last week at Edinburgh’s Hanging Bat – was said not with any degree of arrogance or entitlement, but simply with unremitting enthusiasm. It’s a frame of mind that many new brewery people have; the boundless optimism of ideas, accounts to be won, and whatever long future runs out ahead. But it never gets tiresome hearing it – particularly with a producer like Cloudwater who started things off in the very best way possible.
What exactly do I mean? Consider the evidence…
Exhibit A – The people involved in Cloudwater Brew Co make the whole thing like a Northern Supergroup; a comparison not at all dispelled by the 70’s style roadshow that followed the official launch at Manchester’s Port Street Beer House. In a clockwise flurry, the Cloudwater team then subsequently pitched up in Edinburgh, Newcastle, London, Brighton and Bristol. A showcase normally attached to manufactured bands or political battlebuses, transferred to modern British brewing (I can only imagine they have a flashing totaliser somewhere).
But in gathering brewing talent from Marble, Summer Wine and BrewDog, James has surrounded himself with a serious amount of talent. I guess that’s as fitting a testament to the scale and scope of brewing these days; the inexorable rise in breweries means an awful lot of highly skilled people – and it’s great for a new start-up brewery to have these impressive people making up their spine. All new breweries face challenges; to rely on men and women who have that level of experience must be enormously reassuring.
Exhibit B – The kit and brewery itself didn’t come easy – Paul spent eight months looking for a site, before finding one in November on the Piccadilly Trading Estate, a few minutes walk from Manchester’s busiest train station. Inside, a custom-built San Diegan (San Diego-oan?) 15BBL (24HL) brewhouse – which has been running only a few months. Also, from the start of April, an archway space for 150 barrels with a bar serving sours, natural wines, Bretted ciders, and all kinds of other things tart and fascinating.
As Paul says – “I’m really interested in what happens when nature takes over.” This theme of transition is central to Cloudwater, it seems – later on in the evening, he talks about the Champion Beer of Britain; not in a disparaging way, but in a more measured, practical tone – “CBoB is about maintaining consistency, but ingredients change. Things taste different. I mean, we might brew an IPA year-round, but it will change.” Which leads me to…
Exhibit C – The way that Cloudwater have been built up; the core behind how they will approach things, is laid upon something not usually seen in British brewing – Buddhism. Paul (above left, with head brewer James Campbell) is seemingly quite the spiritual chap; the name is a literal translation of the Zen Buddhist term unsui, taken from a Chinese poem “To drift like clouds and flow like water.” Obstacles to be overcome are parted like clouds; flowed around like water.
Now, if you snorted a little reading that, fair enough. But if a brewery can hold onto an attitude like that whilst keg washing or phoning the Duck and Doughnut for the ninth time about an invoice, then they are probably on the right path. As Paul says – “it’s all about managing perception.”. What many drinkers might perceive as folly, they see as strength. And who can argue with that? Particularly with…
Exhibit D – The recurring theme of transition and movement in their beer range, which will change every three months, with the seasons. It’s my understanding that each will reflect different influences; the current Spring series is noticeably session-strength in outlook, for instance. This underpins how important regional and seasonal ingredients are to them, and instantly gives Cloudwater a huge amount of room to manoeuvre.
But what about the beers? Well, the standout of the eight I had were the 5.5% Citrus Gose – a truly brilliant beer, softly fruity and finished with a tickle of salt, and the 6% Bergamot Hopfenweisse, an waxy Citra/Galaxy masterpiece. The Spring IPA was also fantastic, as were the sharply bitter Pale Ale and Pennine Light. Only the Imperial Stout disappointed, needing more body to back up its 9.5%abv.
Exhibit E – Yet what they have achieved from the front end of operations since November has been fantastically impressive; and the way the operation is being run is a blueprint for new modern brewing. Best of all? Why I think they will go far? Because of how they started. According to Paul, each member of the Cloudwater team contributed, in writing, what they wanted to achieve from the brewery; their personal aims and goals – however small or seemingly unrealistic.
And that was how Cloudwater began, with that mission statement. Not corporate, not trifling – one with actual merit. A true statement of intent – irrespective of obstacles to be overcome (or flowed around).
Cloudwater Brew Co Website and Twitter Feed.
The brewery tap launches at Units 7-8, Piccadilly Trading Estate, Manchester, M1 2NP on the 4th of April.
For an excellent interview with Paul Jones, check out this great post from Chris Hall.