We talked beer with Simon Carroll, general manager of 5 years of Manchester pub Knott. Beautifully nestled into the railway arches in Deansgate, with 8 cask lines and 8 independent keg lines Knott is a staple of the Manchester beer scene. It’s also mine and Paul’s local and a regular pourer of ShinDigger wares.
How has the industry changed since you’ve been at the helm?
The craft beer industry has gone berserk since I became manager of The Knott. Ten years ago we were one of the only bars in Manchester to have such a strong focus on quality beer. As Manchester Beer Week so eloquently put it, “The Knott was craft before craft was a thing”. When I started five and a half years ago, it was still kind of a secret society, where the beer connoisseurs and educated few would revel in their private geeky beer kingdom. Today, what was once seldom seen has become a mainstay of the majority of pubs and bars throughout the area. Whether it be cask or keg, bottle or can, good beer is everywhere. And the industry is much stronger for it.
What beer styles sold particularly well in 2016?
Well obviously the Pale Ale’s and the IPA’s were the big sellers as they appeal to the biggest share of the market. In particular, hoppy, low ABV pales flavoured with South Pacific hops were in vogue - getting your hands on a Nelson Sauvin beer became a near impossibility as the hops ran out. Mosaic Pale Ales (USA) were also popular and the customers really enjoyed them. Outside of the status quo, more quirky beer styles such as Farmhouse or Sour Ales, as well as high strength or “Imperial” stouts as the colder months came in, proved to sell better than previous years.
What major trends are you predicting in 2017?
The rise of craft beer, particularly in the last two years, has seen the opportunity to try some crazy beer styles that a decade ago you would have never thought possible. I can’t see this slowing down any time soon, and I’d expect to find more and more bars and pubs offering thirds or schooners of beer as the styles get more outlandish and the ABV’s get stronger. Breweries won’t neglect their bread and butter though. With more and more people turning to real ale and craft beer, they won’t want to lose their core customer base. A refocus on delivering traiditional style beers of epic quality is also on the agenda for next year.
Have you been affected by Brexit?
We have definitely been affected by the economic uncertainty that looms over people at the moment. Whether that is borne from the recent referendum or just the lingering recession we have all been subjected to, I couldn’t say. But the bottom line is that people drank less in bars and pubs in 2015 than they did the twelve months before. Alcohol itself is a pretty inelastic product in that people will continue to consume it regardless of their disposable income, but they’ll find cheaper ways than going to the pub to do so. It’s an industry wide concern and it’s up to us to consistently give customers good enough reason to come and visit; namely good beer and value for money.
What do you guys do to make sure you stay on top of the game?
Our own mantra is that good beer should be for everyone, not just the trendy few. We have never been an exclusive bar; our customer demographic is as varied as they come, and we make sure we offer a varied enough product to please as many people as possible. This belief filters into the ambience of the venue. I know that I’ve been intimidated walking into some craft beer bars before, and I want everyone to feel comfortable at The Knott we’re not beer snobs! If you add to that consistently good food & beer, and a knowledgeable team that know what they’re selling and who love to talk to customers, then I think you’ll be doing okay. Finally, you need a passion to learn and discover more and more about beer. Knowing that you don’t know everything is important.
Your Meet the Brewer events are regularly sold out with 30 people. What makes them such a success?
A few things really. Choosing the right brewery is crucial - we like to go for the more local breweries held in high regard in Manchester. Some of these nights have literally sold themselves just based on who we got down. Value for money helps - we don’t make much profit on these evenings, and view them more as a thank you to our regular customers and friends who attend. They’re informative but relaxed, and not just for us beer geeks either. We make sure they get fed too, which is always a bonus!
What is your favourite part about working in the industry?
Apart from the beer?! It’s a mentally stimulating job. Everyone likes to focus on the negatives; long, anti-social hours, hard graft, the forfeiture of all weekends and Christmases etc. But building a business is FUN. Watching all your hard work pay off gives you a sense of pride you wouldn’t find in another career. I love the social side too - sometimes work doesn’t feel like work at all. But yeah. Mostly the beer!
Finally, it’s 9am Monday morning stock take. You’re hanging from a big one last night. What’s your hangover cure?
I’m absolutely awful with hangovers! Let me see… okay! Cold shower, cup of tea, painkillers. And if you can stomach it, three Chocolate Weetabix!