Prohibition

Meet Chorlton's Mike Marcus



Hi Mike, we’re over the moon to be distributing Chorlton in Northern Ireland! First up, can you please tell us a bit about your brewing track record. Where did it all begin for you? 

We’re pretty chuffed too! 

We started brewing in 2014 but the journey goes back to 2010 when I was doing an informal internship at Kernel in London and they were just starting to look into using lactobacillus and wild yeasts in their beer. I actually hated sour beer before that but the staff there kept trying me on lambics until it clicked. I’ve been a sour beer lover ever since so when it was time to open my own brewery, it was obvious that was the path I was going to go down.

 

When and how did the idea for Chorlton come about and how have you developed the brewery to where it is now? 

When I moved to Manchester from London (via Berlin), I started diligently brewing in a friend’s basement in Chorlton (that’s where the name comes from). I was writing the business plan at night and brewing during the day. It was pretty much a 7 day a week thing for almost a year as I tried to tease out a vague idea that there’s something missing from the world of sour beer. It turned out to be a pretty simple idea but it took a long time to get there; simple approachable sours like those made in Germany but hoped like pale ales and IPAs.

 

We know you as an innovator and as someone at the forefront of the recent explosion of interest in ‘sour’ beer. Please tell us a little about your brewing process.

The process is constantly evolving. At first the formula was relatively simple. Kettle souring (a quick and clean souring process using lactobacillus to produce lactic acid in the beer), followed by standard fermentation and then aggressively dry hopping with different varieties. We started with Amarillo Sour, Citra Sour, Mosaic Sour, Rakau Sour, etc, then we started introducing wild yeast into the process so we had two product lines which we generally referred to as our “clean" and our “funky” sours. Now we’re starting to combine those two processes and the hope is that in the near future all our beer will be subject to three fermentations: souring, primary fermentation on brewers yeast, and secondary fermentation on wild yeast introduced by blending in a 30 week-old "stock ale”. Its getting increasingly complex but James, Andrew and I are all really interested in the technical challenges of doing this with restricted space and budget.

We’ve also been slowly brewing fewer hoppy beers and more fruit, herb, coffee, etc sours; although we'd never stop brewing sour IPAs entirely.


Also, how do you feel about the rapidly changing trends in modern craft beer? Something to be embraced, ignored or called out? 

I can’t keep up. I’ll leave that to other people and take a little inspiration here and there.

 

Being Irish, we love our dark beers at Prohibition and it seems you love them too! The dark matter series has been stunning,  do you plan to keep releasing them annually and what makes them so so special?

Absolutely! 2018 dark matter is currently sitting in Makers Mark Bourbon barrels and needs bottling pretty soon so that we can release it in November. It’s stronger than previous versions and really complex with notes of vanilla and black cherry.

Dark Matter was the second beer we ever brewed and at the time it shocked people a bit. It’s dark, thick and strong but not as roasty as a stout would be, and it’s brewed with coriander and sea salt. From that base recipe we do something different every year. Sometimes its more of a lactic sour and sometimes its more vinous and complex. In previous years we’ve used dried fermented limes, madagascan single origin cocoa beans, etc. We’re toying with the idea of distilling it next year to make a black spirit.


Other than the dark matter series, which Chorlton beers should our readers absolutely not miss when they see them in a bar or off licence?

Almost all our beer goes into kegs at the moment as we’ve run out of space for conditioning bottles. But we wanted to showcase some blends from our 14 long-term ageing tanks so we decided to do three bottled releases called Solera One, Two, and Three. Solera One is out now and is a blend of wild beers infused with foraged elderflower. Solera Two is coming out soon and is dry hopped with Simcoe. Solera Three is currently sitting on foraged wild cherries and is ready when it’s ready, hopefully soon.

 

The sense of family, sharing of ideas and experience is strong in the beer scene. What brewers and breweries do you take inspiration from, like to spend time with and what beer do you like to drink from other producers?

We love Little Earth Project, we did a collaboration with them last year but it’s still in tank; we’d love to do more things with them. Cantillon may well be an obvious choice but they’re amazing because they mess with tradition; they’re constantly breaking the rules and stretching the limits of what can be considered lambic. Kernel also is an obvious one, as they originally inspired me to open a brewery. And Russian River in the States because they’re equally revered for their massive IPAs and sophisticated wild ales.

We’re pretty close to the breweries down our street and we’re often popping in and out of each other’s railway arches.

 

Having said that, we know you to be fiercely independent. Do you see Chorlton as on a particular mission? Is there a deep seated philosophy that you adhere to as a brewer and business owner? 

I see food production as a political act, in fact the original political act. Humans first gathered into communities as a result of agricultural innovation, and beer is the direct result of that. I’m vehemently against corporate conglomeration and believe that close, non-competitive networks of small businesses can address the dominance of Big Beer in a similar way to how the internet has precipitated a massive decentralisation of power in music, retail, and news media.



What about the recent surge of corporate buyouts and investment - do you think there’s ever a scenario where money from big business can be a positive for craft beer?

Big Business (by which I mean global industrial conglomerates) aren’t investing to help our little scene, they’re doing it to take over. They feel threatened by us and want to destroy the many small entities producing "craft beer” while aping our style and getting it wrong. For whatever reason, and I can talk for hours as to why, small brewery beer can only be made by small breweries.

I’m not saying that we should all be skint though. There’s a whole range of businesses that fit the label “small brewery” and not all of them are particularly small. We could do with being three or four times our current size because with increased revenue comes increased security. But there’s a limit which is actually defined by European law, beyond which you can’t really pretend to be “craft” anymore. 

What’s next for Chorlton? Will you seek to expand and spread the word farther and wider, or do see yourselves continuing to focus on quality rather than quantity?

Export around the world is a big part of our future plans. As is opening a second site in Belgium. It’s a few years away yet and I’m currently failing to find the time to secure investment for it, but the plan is to make bottled, dry hopped Lambic in Brussels and continue to make kegged simpler sours in Manchester.

If anyone reading wants to invest in this, do get in touch :-)


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