Brewing up a storm: How Manchester is helping spur Shindigger’s craft beer bonanza
Written by Keith Andrew
Roll back the clock a couple of decades, and beer was in trouble. Sales of everything but the cheapest lagers were falling, and the UK’s big breweries were either consolidating by buying each other out or branching out, investing their money in coffee shops or hotel chains to save their bacon. Beer, people claimed, was on the way out.
In 2016, beer is very much back in fashion. Whether you’re talking European pilsners or American craft beers, the brown fizzy stuff has enjoyed something of a comeback in the intervening years, shedding its image as the drink of choice for no-one but lager louts and weekend warriors. These days, we’re all drinking beer, as Manchester-based brewing specialist Shindigger is well aware.
Over the last few years, Shindigger has evolved from a student sideline into one of Manchester’s brightest start ups, bringing craft beer to the city’s inhabitants with aplomb. If you’ve headed to the bar at any of Manchester’s most refined drinking establishments, chances are you’ll have seen it on offer more than once. But how exactly did Shindigger get started?
“I met [co-founder] George Grant while at University in Manchester,” fellow co-founder Paul Delamere tells us. “He lived in my halls. We just started home brewing during the third year just as a bit of fun, making cheap beer. The whole thing just evolved from that – we started to take more of an interest in beer and that led us on to think ‘why don’t we just do it as a side project, and take it seriously?’”
Little brewery, big ambitions
Quickly, both Paul and George realised that their relationship at university extended well beyond a close friendship to one that had all the hallmarks of a successful business relationship. The two of them, almost by accident, had stumbled across something potent.
“George loved the American side of beer, which at the time you couldn’t really get in Manchester or the UK in general. So we started brewing with those kind of kits and they were just so much more flavoursome, much more bold, and that led us on to selling beer at house parties,” he continues. “We fell down a rabbit hole, basically.”
That rabbit hole resulted in Shindigger picking up a £10,000 grant from the Government to, in Paul’s words, “start the business on a shoe string”. “It meant using other people’s breweries to brew our beer,” he clarifies. “That’s still how we operate now. It’s the ghost brewery, or gypsy brewery model – whatever you want to call it. We use other people’s breweries to make our recipes, but we come up with those ourselves.”
Though George briefly left the city to work for an insurance company, he later returned to link up with Paul to get Shindigger up and running, back up here in Manchester. So, why pick this city over others? Why not set up shop in London, for instance?
“I genuinely think Manchester is the best place to live and work in the UK,” offers Paul. “It was an obvious choice for us, really. Business is cheaper up here, rent is definitely cheaper up here, we know the city really well and we love it. It’s manageable and it has a really good craft beer scene. We could have done it in London, I guess, but…it’s just too expensive to live down there, and given we had very little money because we were just starting a business, Manchester just made sense.”
EU and me, always and forever
Fast forward a few years and Shindigger is fittingly a staple mate of the Manchester beer scene, with the logo popping up on pumps at some of the city’s most popular bars. Shindigger has arrived.
The company’s reach, however, extends beyond the city the boys behind it love. As Paul explains, you can now sample the brewery’s finest in Leeds, Sheffield, Preston, Liverpool, Stoke and beyond. More is to come, but he stresses the importance of growing at a natural, rather than an inflated rate.
“We’ve been exporting to Hong Kong, but that’s purely because we had someone approach us from Hong Kong,” he explains. “At the moment, selling abroad is not really an area where we’re thinking ‘right, we need to expand right now’. We’re just focusing on what’s local and what’s here at the moment, but I’m sure in the future we’ll grow. We don’t need to move that far or that fast yet, there’s still a lot of room for us to grow in the North of England.”
When the time arises to look beyond Britain’s borders, however, Paul is certain Shindigger will face some notable challenges – and one of them is not of the company’s own making.
“In general, the UK leaving the EU just doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me,” he concludes of the country’s recent referendum on Europe. “To me, any push in the direction of moving away from Europe, from the single market, easy trade and all that…well I think it’s a step backwards. I don’t think it’s beneficial to anyone doing business. We know other breweries who do business in Europe and I’m sure in the future we’d be looking to do business over there too, and I think that it doesn’t help.”
The prospect of the UK pulling away from its neighbours and retreating is anathema to Manchester’s ambitious start ups, though if Shindigger’s fast track to the heights of the city’s brewing scene is anything to go by, it’ll be more then equipped to handle any storm whipped up by Brexit.
If there’s one thing drinking a nice, relaxing beer will do, it’s give you a cool head and a sense of perspective. We’d put money on Shindigger using that to its advantage, making its mark on the wider world some time soon, Brexit or no Brexit.