Wildflowers, Bees and Brewing in Manchester

Brew Wild is definitely one of Grow Wild's more unusual projects; hives on the roof of Manchester Art Gallery are being used to produce honey, the honey is being used to make beer, and meanwhile allotment keepers all over the city are being encouraged to grow wild flowers as ingredients and to help pollinators including bees and butterflies. Photographer and blogger Len Grant pays them a visit.

“You must be the only art gallery manager who’s also a beekeeper,” I suggest to John Mouncey as we wait for the others to arrive for the photo shoot.  “You might think so,” says John, “but Tate Modern keeps bees too, which is where we got our inspiration.” As the City of Manchester’s symbol is the worker bee – harking back to the Industrial Revolution – is seems entirely appropriate. 

When not overseeing visitors to the Pre-Raphaelite galleries at Manchester Art Gallery, John and his colleague don their beekeeping suits and look after up to 120,000 bees in three hives on the gallery roof. 

Food for such a vast colony has partly been provided by the gallery’s Lost Gardens of Manchester project, a sort of green oasis around the front entrance of the gallery that was planted over 12 days by a team of volunteers. “And Grow Wild’s Tale of Two Cities isn’t too far away either,” says John referring to the Grow Wild England flagship, which is transforming landscapes on a grand scale in both Liverpool and Manchester using wild flowers.

The gallery’s latest venture is to brew a beer with Manchester honey and tonight staff and community partners are assembling for a Brew Wild team photo. “It seems a natural progression,” says John, “and Grow Wild is supporting us in our collaboration with other apiaries and community growers.”

“How much honey do you need?”

“Here’s the man to ask,” says John as I’m introduced to Ian Sanderson a brewer from Redwillow Brewery in nearby Macclesfield, who’s pulling a beer bottle from his bag. “Apart from this prototype, I’ve never brewed with honey before,” he says. “I’ve used juniper, lemongrass, ginger and even passion fruit but, until now, never honey. It’s incredibly fermentable and the challenge will be to make sure the honey characteristics come through into the beer.”

“And how’s the prototype?” 

“For a first attempt, I’m very pleased with it,” he says, rummaging for his opener. As more gather I begin to get a better feel for Brew Wild. Community beekeepers Richard and Kay will also sell honey to the project from their apiary in north Manchester and invite others to do the same. Allotment holders around the city are being encouraged by the Brew Wild team to grow marjoram and yarrow – and other native herbs and wild flowers – as ingredients. These wild flowers are a great source of food and shelter for pollinators, including bees – encouraging their growth in allotments around the city is a fantastic help to the whole eco-system. 

“It’ll work like a co-operative,” explains John, now changed into his protective suit. “We’ll purchase produce from local growers who’ll invest back into their own projects.” If all goes to plan Brew Wild will be producing between 30,000 and 90,000 litres of honey beer before the autumn. “And what’s it going to be called?” I ask. “We haven’t come up with a name yet,” says John. “Maybe Manchester Honey Beer.”

As we all troupe out to the front of the gallery I ask John if he’s ever been stung. “Oh yes. That’s an occupational hazard even with your suit on. Generally it’s your own fault. Once I didn’t do my visor zip up properly and a bee got into my hood and stung me just underneath the eye. That hurt.”

Best of luck to Brew Wild – here’s hoping they don’t suffer too many more stings!

Check out the full Brew Wild photo album on our Facebook Page

Discover more Grow Wild community projects in our showcase HERE. Or find a project close to you by checking out our Project Map.

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