“Don’t drink gin and tonic/only natural wine to be honest” was how Action Bronson detailed his preferred alcohol to imbibe on 2018’s ‘Irishman Freestyle’. But this ‘White Bronco’ bar was not the first time Bam Bam Baklava had waxed lyrical about his fondness for ‘adult juice’.
Flushing, Queens’ finest had been chronicling his propensity for all manner of fluorescent fermentations for a good few years before this and, in the year of our lord 2022, not only are restaurant menus bulging with low intervention oranges and pristinely produced pet nats, but we are also being blessed with fully fledged stockists dedicated to sulphate spared grapes.
Launching at the end of August 2021 as another lovechild of Philip Hannaway and David McCall (you know them from Takk, Seesaw and OL), the Ancoats neighbourhood hangout is rolling into its second year in operation as a properly ‘if you know, you know’ sort of spot in Manchester’s Little Italy. Much like any of the finest natural wines, there’s a deft subtlety and nuance to KERB, with an abundance of flavour packed within their four walls. The interior is able to snatch your attention from the street with its ‘Aesop does alcohol’ aesthetic, appearing both stripped back and serious, yet warm and inviting.
Speaking to KERB’s manager Fiona Boulton, it is stressed that, despite the wealth of knowledge and ingenuity that goes into every facet of the business, there is absolutely no pressure on the customers themselves to share the same depth of experience when it comes to natural wines. In fact, quite the opposite is seemingly preferred.
“You don’t have to know anything about natural wine to enjoy it. The wine is the social lubricant for the culture around us.
“So many people think you need to know about wine to be in a wine bar. Which is totally not the case, I want everyone to come into KERB and not feel pressure to know that shit. You can literally come in and tell me you like the taste of mango and I’ll sort you a glass of something. And that’s it.”
The culture that Fiona mentions is immediately identifiable from within minutes of stepping foot inside KERB or just spending a small amount of time scrolling their instagram feed and website. The creative process surrounding the wine itself is a constantly evolving programme of events, collaborations and merchandise.
“We’ve actually just produced our second ‘zine,” Fiona reveals, “It focuses on the creative community around us. Apolluss has guest edited it along with Tomas Gittins illustrating it and designing our new merch. There’s conversations with some of our favourite local creatives in there, which were all had over a few glasses in store.
“We did group wine tastings all together and they’ve all got a wine pick in the back of the ‘zine. We launched it last month with Tom live spray painting merch outside the store while we poured a really fun line up of wines.”
It should come as no surprise, snuggled into Ancoats as it is, that KERB is all about community. The entire neighbourhood has garnered a tremendous sense of unity among businesses and residents alike over the last couple of years, which makes Hannaway and McCall’s (alright, that sounds like a ’70s NYPD detective show that absolutely FUCKS) latest project such a natural fit for the area.
It would be easy for KERB to simply cater to the connoisseurs. Set up shop, price everything ludicrously, make a living off selling a handful of bottles a month. Instead, there is a genuine desire to build an extended family of regulars through thoughtful recommendations and pretension-free education. But this education doesn’t simply stop at chatting through a few selections with a procession of new customers.
Circling back to the culture aspect of KERB’s multitude of offerings, Fiona divulges more about the extra mile the Ancoats mob are going to with their services to all things natty.
“I’m trying to do wine tastings in a less pressured environment. I’ll feature a winemaker one night – pour all their bottles by the glass. There will never be a ticket to get in, you can drink as much or as little as you want.
“Rock up when you want, leave when you want, have one glass or a flight of them all. We can chat about the winemaker if you want. I want it to be somewhere I wouldn’t feel intimidated to go into.”
And, speaking of winemakers, glasses and flights, what grapes are going down most smoothly with KERB’s clientele at the minute?
“People seem to be loving Vinho Verde at the moment. It’s such a crowd pleaser – have it with food, have it without, have it for pre’s, drink it when you get home. It’s right for every occasion.“
Oh, and how about a few more recommendations and pairings for good measure?
“There are so many ways you can go when the weather is hot, but for me the top choice is a sparkling red. Camillo Donati, Lambrusco Rosso is best paired with a spot on the grass by the marina. I like to order through Foodstuff and get some Kong’s Chicken alongside it. Best combo ever.
“I love a funky orange in the sun as well – Denavolo, Dinavolino Bianco is the perfect salty, nutty orange. Sat on the balcony in the evening with a glass of that is one of the finer things in life. Alongside some snacks before you eat – some Gordal olives & charcuterie – Northern Cure make the best.”
Armed with Fiona’s list of essentials, one question still persists, and it surrounds the rumours of hangover free mornings after the night before. Is it true? Do natural wines hand a resounding L to the ‘brain in a G clamp’ nightmare? Are sparkling reds the path to Sunday afts enjoying fresh air and productivity rather than Berocca in the foetal position? A night of pet nats enough to prevent spending another entire Saturday feeling like a ham sandwich that fell down the back of a radiator?
“I get this question a lot. The thing is after I’ve had three glasses I’ll drink anything – so it’s probably the ‘anything’ that’s giving me hangovers. I do feel like I’m putting less shit in my body drinking natural wine though. The chemicals they put into conventional wine are terrifying if you dive into it.”
A cursory glance at KERB’s inventory would have you believing that it is in fact they who are in possession of the chemically enhanced supply. A kaleidoscopic array of shades, labelled with all manner of psychedelic illustrations and designs that would not look out of place adorning the shelves of Piccadilly Records.
Aesthetics are big game in the world of natural wine, such is the complex expressionism that is so inextricably linked to the wine making process itself. The independence of the growers is not just exhibited merely in the flavour within each bottle, but what decorates the vessel as well. As natural wine makers attempt to distance themselves as much as possible from the stubborn traditions of the old world, what might appear to be nothing more than an attempt to coerce a customer towards their produce is often an artistic statement or declaration of character and personality beyond the bottle.
KERB itself is a very deliberately curated space, which Fiona describes as a testament to the overarching message behind the brand, where the wine is the vehicle to so much more.
“We love design spaces you might find in Copenhagen or California. We have travelled extensively around the Nordics and California – so there was definitely an influence there. We worked with Manchester based Youth Studio to create the space.
“We wanted it to be the opposite of what you might expect from a traditional wine bar. The central table encourages conversation and interaction and we wanted the space to be that casual space where you might grab a glass before or after a meal.
“The amazing eNaR do our graphic design, they totally get what we want and always hit the nail on the head with what they create.“
Creation is the centre of the universe when it comes to low intervention supping, driving the winemakers to extraordinary lengths. To adventures of discovery, akin to the musical icons of the ’60s and ’70s, altering their minds as they scoured the outer reaches of sanity searching for the new sound, each one looking for their own bottled version of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
“Natural wine has a lot of room for creativity. It’s really interesting watching these incredible winemakers experiment with what they have and being able to taste the results. I’ve just got some new bottles from Tim Wildman (Lost in a Field, Frolic) and he’s got the maddest story. He spent two months last year driving round the south hunting for heritage grape varieties – he had a list of 200 vineyards from the 70s, sometimes just a postcode, and just drove around looking for them. In the end he found 21 of them, and only two would sell him grapes in the quantities he needed. It just seemed like a mad gamble and he’s come out with this insane English Pet Nat that’s like nothing I’ve tried before.
“It fits into how I feel about shopping outside of wine too. Loads of these producers are families or couples, running a tiny operation. You know they care so much about what they’re producing and because quantities are often so small you know you’re getting a product that someone’s heart has gone into.”
But while some winemakers are venturing to the vineyards of the ’70s for their produce, what does Fiona believe the future holds for natural wine?
“I hope a younger crowd will keep drinking it. My generation, Gen Z, seem super conscious about how their choices impact the environment, and natural wine is the ethical drinking choice in that regard. It’s producers ditching machinery, not putting loads of chemicals into the water systems, and growing grapes in a sustainable way that supports ecosystems. I think if I’d walked past KERB when I was a student I’d think ‘fuck that looks nice but unaffordable’ but when you come in you’ll spend the same as any other bar. I want to see more people my age exploring natural wine.”
While KERB does, undeniably, tick many a box on Gen Z bingo cards in terms of offering ethical, sustainable, independent and healthier ferments than what you would ordinarily grab off the shelf at Aldi or ASDA on a weekday night, this isn’t just a box ticking exercise. It’s a passion that they want to share as widely as possible while doing so over a few glasses and a few laughs with likeminded individuals (not sure why I’ve worded that like an advert for a swingers bar, but we move).
Unassuming in its Ancoats avenue, KERB has quietly been making a name for themselves in a city that has rapidly become flooded (in the finest way possible) by premium level adult juice. Unburdened by the rules and regulations of ‘red with this, white with that’, they are a gang of grape guzzling fanatics that want to share their devotion with you and have an arseload of fun doing it.
Now, about that sparkling red and Kong’s Chicken combo…
If you’ve not got chance to nip into KERB, you can always find their supplies (and some top notch merch) online at their official website HERE