It would have to be meditative, the music playing over the sound system at the Cloudwater Brewery in Manchester. Even the doorbell sounds like a jazz clarinet, but the ambience inside the brewing facility on the Piccadilly Trading Estate is made harmonious and mellow by the choice of tunes leaking softly from the PA system. It’s tough to state definitively, given how everyone approaches things from different angles, but Cloudwater have quickly become (in my mind) one of the most talked about new producers in the UK over the last few months – and as part of this the fact that the choice of music playing was Tibetan-style and melodic didn’t really come as a surprise; Cloudwater having taken their name from a literal translation of the Zen Buddhist term unsui, taken from a Chinese poem “To drift like clouds and flow like water.”
There’s a sense that Cloudwater founder Paul Jones has set out to try and do things differently to the norm, and not just in terms of the brewery sound system. One of the most-discussed of these is that they do not have a core lineup – the entire beer range changes every three months with the season. So their Spring IPA will be very different to their Autumn IPA, for instance – and entirely new styles will be subbed in depending on ingredients and what the brewteam decide could be utilised. On a recent Saturday morning visit to the brewery, Paul (above) talked about some of the other things that he believes could be done differently to the standard model of opening a brewery – and one that he kept returning to was how to record the process on social media.
Ever since picking up the keys to what used to be an advertising hoarding company (at the start of October last year), Paul set out to document exactly how the brewery would come together, deciding that he would move away from big messages and proclamations about the future of Cloudwater and instead focus on things that he would have wanted to see, had he been following a new brewery grow on social media. So, things like intricate photos of the installation and the new flooring. “It’s what interests me,” says Paul, pointing behind him to the brewkit. “Although I did wonder how many people would respond – until about a month and a half in when guy did, saying ‘for fuck’s sake you’ve got me liking pictures of pipes on Sunday morning’, and I thought ‘Yesss!'”
“So during the fit out there were lots of things that we were getting to see that very few people would ever get to see,” he continues. “I thought if I don’t have something of a record of this, I am really going to regret it. So just because I’m super-enthusiastic about that, I mean – some of the contractors we used totally thought I was stark raving mad. They said why are you fascinated that I’m on my knees hand trowelling this resin floor? But I didn’t know that guys had to get down on their knees to do massive warehouses – Coca Cola gets the same treatment, by hand, and the craft in their work is unbelievable. I mean, this entire floor was laid by a guy with a long piece of wood. They dump all of the resin containing sand and cement composite mix and to finish he hand-tamps it down into the angle that we need it to be. He takes initial measurements and then everything else is done from his skill and his eye. It’s mind-blowing.”
Taking delight in the small things is something I can appreciate, certainly – and Paul backs up his assertion by stating that if it gets him excited then chances are there’s someone else out there who also takes more than a passing interest in what they are doing as well. And that, for him, is reason enough. He carries on, waving his arm around the brewery. “In that way, it’s an anti-strategy, because I don’t think about how it is accepted. I just think if I resonate with something; I’m a human being, there are other human beings out there and that’s enough. I don’t want people to like our message. We don’t have a message, we have human beings and we have stuff that’s interesting and people will hopefully respond to that.”
Just at the point where you start to think he’s a unremitting Scrapbooker intent on capturing and regurgitating everything the brewery is up to, he underlines exactly what it is that makes him tick. “I guess the only way that I did strategise is because I knew that I wouldn’t talk about stuff that is happening in the future. And I still really try hard to not do that. I hate to – I don’t think you’ll ever find me taking a picture of my beer every week and saying, like, ‘here it is!’ or ‘Cheers!’ or something like that, that isn’t quite me, I’d rather find those details of things that we are working on, and geek out about those and share those instead. Unfortunately, I get so little time to do that these days. I’d like to do more – there are always lots of things going on, or new processes, new beers we are brewing, new things that I see – I just don’t get time to capture it these days. I hope to work on that, though…
No time is easy to imagine – despite the fact that Cloudwater produce five brews a week (two double brews and one single) it seems like everyone there is working constantly, at high pace. Partly this is down to still being a new brewery of course – having just passed their first anniversary, but other parts are down to the simple fact of operating their facility. Located a few minute’s walk from Piccadilly Station, the brewery shares a water supply with the colossal 338-room Macdonald Manchester Hotel and Spa. The result is the flow they get is ‘pathetic’ – but any alternative would mean the opposite at the other end. “The hotel would have fountains for toilets, otherwise” Paul says, ruefully. “We can’t even do a tenth of what we want to do here – but at least we can have some visitors. The alternative would be out at Trafford Park or by the airport.”
Plans for something to add to this have fallen back a little, but are still going to happen. An archway on Sheffield Street with space for 250 barrels will be turned into a fermentation bar, serving sour beers and natural wines, plus Bretted ciders and fermented food plates. It sounds like a fascinating idea, and one that will again set Cloudwater apart from the others. As they continue to solve the problems all small breweries face – yet in their own unique way – Cloudwater will surely remain one of the beermakers to watch in the UK for some time to come.
Thanks to Paul Jones and the Cloudwater team for allowing us to head along and bombard them with questions. This article originally stated the barrel-store contained 250 barrels – Paul has confirmed that’s the capacity overall and the current number is around 100. Too much frantic note-taking!