Opened in January 2011, Port Street Beer House has quickly become what a fair proportion of locals claim to be the definitive beer house in the city. It is also often referred to as 'Hipster Central' due to it being located on the edge of Manchester's Northern Quarter which is home to a lot of creative types.
The relative 'artiness' of the clientèle can be estimated by seeing what type of smartphone they use. On the opening night, iPhones outnumbered everything else by a factor of 5 to 1. Since then, however, the ratio is about 50% iPhones, 40% Android-based and 10% all the other sorts. This indicates that the ratio of creative types to IT types and other beer lovers has balanced out.
The pub specialises in beer from all over the world, but mostly bottles and keg from the United States and cask and keg from the UK. The UK cask is more often than not from microbrewers in the Northern Beer Belt, a stretch between Liverpool and Leeds that is fast becoming synonymous with the revival of craft cask beer that pushes the ideas of what beer can be.
With seven cask1 ale lines, the range is both fast changing and impressive. Beers regularly feature from Thornbridge in Bakewell, Dark Star from Brighton, Quantum from Stockport and Red Willow from Macclesfield, and Prospect Brewery from Wigan and Magic Rock from Liverpool.
The cask ales on offer not only change regularly but given the bar staff's love of beer often surprise. Casks from Flying Dog Brewery and Sierra Nevada have been seen (and enjoyed), and an aim to try to serve the most unusual beers possible seems to be bearing fruit.
There are twelve keg2 lines given over to dispensing beers from the States and continental Europe, and a further six purely for the new resurgence of English kegged ale, two of which are reserved solely for Brew Dog beers.
If you're looking for the ubiquitous Guinness, Stella Artois or other mass-produced beers, then you will be sorely disappointed. They're proud not to sell them here. As well as being creative in their selection of cask ales, this pub treats quality keg beer with equal respect. Unlike a lot of other pubs that promote cask ales, this pub promotes beer and if the dispense method happens to be keg, then so be it. They'll do their best to make sure that the pint you buy over the counter is as close to what the brewer had in mind as possible. The closest to a house lager is Veltins or Moravka, which despite its continental sounding name is actually from Buxton in the Derbyshire Peak District.
There is no keg stout, so fans of 'the black stuff' will have to be delighted with making do with something from the seriously impressive range of bottled beers available.
It's worth noting that the English kegged beers are served in the American style, cold. You'll quite often see people ordering a pint of keg and a pint of cask to drink while the kegged beer warms up.
This is where Port Street Beer House stands out from its rivals, even those nationally that appeal to the same market. There are over 100 different bottled beers available, with a beer menu on all the tables and the bar. Separated into America, Belgium, Germany, Italy, UK, Norway, Denmark and everywhere else, this list doesn't just make up the numbers. It covers all styles of beer from light and weak through to dark and strong with everything in between. It's also not just the small bottles that you can buy and enjoy yourself, but the larger ones that are ideally shared with a friend of a Saturday afternoon. Do take note of the price, though, as although most bottles are (at the time of writing, 2011) around the £4 to £6 range, some will set you back as much as £22. They have been known to sell a beer at £45 a bottle, but that was Brew Dog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin at 32% abv3.
Having a fast-changing and impressive selection of ales is one thing but this pub also makes sure that they train their staff. Getting a job here isn't something that you do because flipping burgers isn't for you; this is something you do because you have a passion about beer. The pub doesn't open on a Monday, not because the trade4 would be slow, but so that the managers can run the occasional event or train their staff. Training often comes in the form of getting experts in their field to come in and chat about what they do, all with the aim of increasing the knowledge of those pouring your pints.
The other reason for closing on Mondays is the monthly 'Meet the Brewer' evenings, where they've got in not just the local brewers, but also the likes of Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery and Jim Caruso from Flying Dog.
Staying closed on Mondays isn't the only opening times anomaly: they don't open until 4pm on the other weekdays.
With its dedication to beer and the lively, knowledgeable atmosphere, you can easily bump into brewers, beer journalists and bloggers, other publicans and fellow beer aficionados. This really is a beer house in the proper style. It can get busy on Fridays and Saturdays from about 7pm onwards when the trade is there for the beer. Other evenings you can usually get a table in the larger upstairs room which, with its larger booth-style tables around two walls and large round tables in the middle, can accommodate about 60 seated, or if you're early enough you might get one of the few smaller tables downstairs nearer the bar.
Even though this pub can get busy, it only gets loud through conversation as the music is generally kept at a background level.
Be warned though, the toilets are on the second floor.