It’s a truly exciting time for the real ale and/or craft beer drinkers of Manchester, as the number and range of new breweries opening in Manchester continues apace. Some start-ups are small-scale and brand new to the scene, others have combined years of brewing experience and gone in with all guns blazing. Richard Conway, brewer and proprietor of Thirst Class Ale is a half-and-half case, a solo brewer who has been homebrewing for years and is now moving in to small-scale commercial brewing, with (if my sampling of his Stocky Oatmeal Stout at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival yesterday afternoon is anything to go by) very promising prospects indeed.
I sent Richard the usual selection of questions by email and he very kindly sent back the following answers and information. Enjoy!
Manchester Ale News: What’s the origin story of Thirst Class Ale? How did the project get started and who’s on the team?
Richard: Thirst Class Ale really came about as a natural progression from homebrewing. I’d outgrown my homebrew kit and wanted to brew on a bigger scale and start selling some of my beers, but we didn’t have enough room in the house. We explored the possibility of building a garage extension but that seemed a little excessive so I started looking around at units for rent and I found the ideal place almost immediately. I signed a lease and started building kit in August 2014 and, at the time of writing, our first two beers, Hoppy Couple IPA and Stocky Oatmeal Stout have been released on cask.
The team really should be just me – well that was the plan anyway, but I have to give credit where it’s due as I’ve been getting a lot of help from friends and family during the brewery build, and my better half, Jane, has been a fantastic help and I couldn’t have got through the first two brewdays without her! I’ve also had a lot of people promise they will help out with brewing, bottling, cleaning, etc. although it remains to be seen if this will actually happen when there’s work to be done!
Manchester Ale News: Do you have a background in brewing at all? Have you taken any training courses, or are you self-taught?
Richard: As I mentioned above I’m from a homebrewing background. I dabbled with homebrew kits back in the early 2000’s but was never impressed with the quality and I didn’t have the money or space to do “proper” all-grain brewing at the time so I gave it up. I was still interested in beers and brewing and kept my hand in drinking the stuff, but about two years ago I decided to have a stab at brewing from scratch.
I am very much self-taught and took advantage of the plethora of books and groups on the internet to further my knowledge. There is also a great homebrewing community in Manchester and I’ve enjoyed spending time with the Manchester Homebrewers group (manchesterhomebrew.co.uk). I decided early on that I would use my DIY skills to build equipment from scratch which I did and eventually I had a small home brewery split between the kitchen and the shed.
I realised very quickly that the quality of the beers I could make on this kit using the raw ingredients was better than any kit homebrew I’d ever made, and it soon became apparent from friends, family and (more importantly) impartial outsiders that the beer I was producing was at least as good as, if not better than, a lot of beers available commercially.
Not long after I started brewing I started entering competitions and have had some success. I’ve entered several beers into the UK National Homebrew Competition where I’ve won a silver medal for an IPA, a silver medal for a Hefeweizen and a gold medal in the speciality category for my Treacle Imperial Stout.
By far the most exciting brewing experience (prior to setting up my own brewery) was when I entered an IPA competition – organised by The Beermoth in Manchester – and came first. The prize was to spend the day with the renowned Jay Krause at Quantum Brewing Company in Stockport, brewing my winning recipe Elephant Hawk IPA on his 5 barrel kit. It was a fantastic day and was probably the turning point that made me want to do it myself – thanks Jay!
Manchester Ale News: How many beers are there in the Thirst Class range? Are they all regulars, or are a few of them one-off brews?
Richard: I plan to do a mixture – there will be a core to begin with consisting of Hoppy Couple IPA which is an American style IPA coming in around 6.3%, Stocky Oatmeal Stout at 5.2%, Stockport Common Beer – a 4.8% California Common/Steam Beer – and a so far unnamed Pale Ale at 3.3%.
I also have at least a dozen or more recipes from my home brewing days I’d like to try out – so specials will definitely play a big part – and I expect the core range to evolve based on popularity and feedback – and hopefully some of the specials will find their way into the core range if they work well.
Manchester Ale News: Who are your major brewing influences and what are your favourite beer styles?
Richard: It’s hard to pick out particular brewing influences as I’m pretty happy to drink beers from any brewery providing they are good beers. I think what makes beer so exciting for me though is the people and events that go on throughout the beer calendar – things like Indy Man Beer Con, Liverpool Craft Beer Expo, Leeds International Beer Festival and Birmingham Beer Bash. I’ve attended these and more over the last few years and really enjoyed the buzz around the beer scene and meeting other brewers and drinkers alike.
As for beer styles, I am a bit of a hop head and love IPAs full of US and NZ hops – but then who doesn’t? I also enjoy (and have brewed) Saisons, Witbiers, German wheat beers, Imperial Stouts and Rye Beers. The list goes on and on – I just love beer!
Manchester Ale News: If there was one brewery or brewer that you could collaborate with, who would it be and what would you brew?
Richard: It would have to be Magic Rock – I find them to be amongst the most consistent UK breweries in terms of quality and I’ve not had a beer of theirs I just didn’t love – it just seems to me that they never brew a bad beer! What would we brew? Unhuman Cannonball so I could steal the recipe :)
Manchester Ale News: What can we look forward to from Thirst Class in 2015?
Richard: Beer! First and foremost 2015 will be the year our beers will hit the pumps (and shelves.) I expect to spend the first six months making core beers, getting them out there and getting feedback. There will still be lots of tweaks and improvements to make around the brewery (we identified at least a dozen things that need fixing or improving after the first brew alone!) and hopefully we can get these ironed out so in the second six months of 2015 we can start to produce some special edition beers.
We’ll hopefully be present at some festivals too – both in beer and in person – starting with our first two beers at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival.