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Looking to deliver a quality package

Cloudwater Brew Co. opened with something of a fanfare having built things up with a fair dollop of hype. There were great expectations and they’ve delivered on some areas but are still working on others.

There is no doubt that this is a classy brewery. From the attractive hazy artwork on its bottle labels to the unusual IPA-shaped glasses carrying the cleverly designed Cloudwater logo, to the ludicrously thick (logo-embossed) business cards they hand out – it all suggests things are being done with great thought.

Okay these might be seen as simply adornments. But it’s not just style over substance. For starters the head brewer (and co-founder) here is James Campbell who has done his time at well respected Marble. And what a new brewery he now has to play with.

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To wander into Cloudwater is to be impressed. The steel industrial shed does not stand-out but what’s inside certainly does. It is the first UK brewer to import its brewhouse from Premier in the US whose equipment produces some of the best beers in America.

There is also a ridiculously compact bottling machine that can deal with 2,000 bottles per hour. Co-founder Paul Jones tells me with some relish that Buxton’s equipment is ten-times the size for the same output.

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Bottling marvel

This is all impressive stuff but there have been some teething problems – partly as a result of the problems of satisfying significant early demand from the opening hype. Pricing was an issue with reputedly around £90 being charged for a barrel of 4% cask. Selling into the free trade outside Manchester was also an issue as they initially worked with wholesalers who only dealt with pallet volumes at the high price levels. This caused some annoyance in the trade. This is due to be addressed with the acquisition of a van for direct deliveries.

Despite the early pricing miss-hits the initial stock quickly ran short and then some rushed production was not without its issues. As things have started to settle down there is extra capacity being added. The present 24hl brew length is given a work-out through double-brewing and the output is then housed in 400hl of fermenting vessels, which will shortly be doubled.

As Campbell flexes his muscles and works his way towards becoming more of a production brewer – with its attendant regular, and consistent-quality, high volumes – he is quickly building a broad and interesting portfolio of beers.

A fly-past tasting included a clean, lightly-hopped lager, Farmhouse IPA that had the heady Belgian yeast aroma countered with a balanced hoppiness, the Grisette that at 3.5% packed enough taste to keep you wanting more, and the Cream Ale that combined the crispness of the lager with a hint of the mouth-feel of milk stout. Sadly I was too late for the Spring Gose.

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I was also too early for the Imperial Stout that is ageing in Ardbeg barrels, the Citrus Gose that is sucking flavour out of the inside of Tequila barrels, and the Old Garde beer that was brewed collaboratively with Burning Sky and is now maturing in Burgundy barrels.

These hint at the brewery’s big plans as these beers will form part of a maturation and sours programme that Cloudwater has planned and which highlights its serious intent on experimenting. It has secured a railway arch down the road from the main site that will house up to 160 wooden barrels as well as a bar selling niche beers, natural wines, and Brett fermented ciders.

There is clearly much promise here and the industry and beer drinkers retain their hope that their high expectations can be met.