Marble and Marble Arch
We have reached that ragged place in a trip where the free time in-between scheduled activities is increasingly given over to recuperation, and blogging time diminishes. I’m afraid I’ll have to give a truncated description of a truly rare and wonderful place, but I can’t go without mentioning it at all.
That’s Jan Rogers talking about the pub we were sitting in, the most-lauded pub in Manchester. Built in 1888 as The Wellington, locals immediately started referring to it for its signature feature, a marble arch over the door (it’s actually granite, but hey). The whole building is architecturally interesting, designed by a firm of some distinction. The inside appears to be tiled, but the walls and ceiling are actually made of glazed bricks. Riveted iron beams strap the ceiling, and indeed, they are structural. According to the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Manchester, it’s actually a “jack-arch ceiling with exposed cast iron-beams supported by tile-clad brackets.” At the ceiling line, the pub signals its posh beginnings with all the drinks you could expect to find—brandies, cordials, wine, and so on. The Wellington was never an old boozer.
Jan was vague about how she came to acquire the building, but in 1997 she decided to add a small brewery, which would become one of the first generation of UK craft breweries. Her son, Joe Ince, is now the head brewer, and he gave us a quick tour of where it used to be. The building was never designed to hold a brewery, so they shoehorned a tiny kit into what is now a storeroom no bigger than many bathrooms.
Marble started brewing back in a time well before US influence. The DNA has always been cask ale, and Joe is making some of the finest examples in the country. The standard Bitter (4.2%) is modeled after a northern pint—paler and stiffer than in the south. It’s actually brewed with American hops, but aside from a lightly citrusy cast, they’re mostly there to provide bitterness. It’s a proper bitter, but an updated one. It is one of a pair of flagships, along with the humbly-named Pint, a 3.9% golden ale.
It’s literally one of the best cask ales I’ve ever encountered. Another “updated” beer, Joe make it with a blend of unexpected hops—Lemon Drop, Nelson Sauvin, Dr. Rudi, and Citra—that just fizz with flavor. They’re highly aromatic, but not on the American scale, and the flavors are softly lemony. Joe uses Munich malts in both beers, but it’s more evident in Pint, with that lovely warm bread taste.
Joe was raised in the pub and had ambitions to play rugby (and did for a time), but then took a degree in forensic science before eventually returning to beer. “I didn’t really know how to do anything else,” he joked, which I think was his way of saying he was born to it. I wondered if being raised in a pub might not make him want to do anything else, but he seemed surprised by that. He loved it. “Me and my brother got into a lot of shenanigans upstairs,” he said as we stood in the cellar. They must have been good ones—his brother is also a professional brewer.
Marble makes more than cask ale, and do have a small barrel program. They did a collaboration with Fuller’s on a version of Gale’s Prize Old Ale, one of the remnants of the brett-inoculated vat era. They still have that strain (with Fullers’ blessing) and plan to continue making it.
Much more could be said about the brewery, but I’m going to have to leave it there. It’s rightly considered one of the non-negotiable must-sees in Manchester, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Oh, and they also do a mean Sunday roast.