Now in its fourth year, Indy Man Beer Con has established itself as one of the most significant events in the beer calendar, showcasing the best of Britain's modern independent brewing scene. Beer Battered is counting down to this year's event by providing a new blog every day in the week leading up to it. The Indy Man Advent Calendar will provide a series of different perspectives on the festival, from an organiser, a punter, a volunteer, a Mancunian brewery, an overseas brewery, a veteran Indy Man brewery and a newcomer. Previous days: one (Claudia Asch, organiser), two (Mark Welsby, Runaway Brewery), three (Chris Dixon, volunteer), four (Adam Watson, Against the Grain), five (Todd Nicolson, New Zealand Craft Beer Collective).
Today's blog features Indy Man punter and beer blogger Steve Bentall, from the Beer O'Clock Show.
From a customer's perspective, why do you think Indy Man Beer Con has become so popular?
For me, it's a mix of things. Location is a lot to do with it, there's something about Victoria Baths' unique environment that makes it special. The range of beer and breweries is impressive and many of the brewers are there as well so you get an opportunity to chat to them and find out more about the stories behind the beer. There's also a certain unknown quality as well that's probably to do with the atmosphere. It's very chilled, relaxed and good-natured.
From the perspective of a blogger, I've also found the organisers to be very approachable and they seem to be doing it for the right reasons. It does seem to be the prime gathering for beer geeks too so you know you will bump into good people.
It's close to being the perfect festival. There wasn't a single thing I didn't like about it last year and there were different options to suit different people. For example, if I wanted music I knew there was a room I could go to, but if I wanted peace and quiet there were also plenty of places where I could find that.
A lot of people mention the venue. What was your first reaction upon stepping into the Edwardian swimming baths?
My first reaction was literally, 'wow, this is amazing'. It took me back to my childhood because I remember swimming in baths just like these when I was younger.
It was just perfect and I don't know whether the festival would work as well in any other location so that's a challenge the organisers face in coming years. Do they want to grow the festival? If they do they will need to move and it becomes an entirely different experience. Or do they want to maintain what they are doing now but then risk excluding people?
Did you have any criticisms of last year's event?
I really don't know, there wasn't anything where I thought 'they shouldn't have done that'. The balance is just right and the few little changes that they seem to have made for this year all seem to be positive. It looks like they have listened to what people have said and responded to feedback, both good and bad. But I suppose we shall see.
What did you make of the criticism from some quarters that the festival exudes an air of snobbery?
I think it's what you make of it but it's quite difficult to make a judgement from the inside. I'm in what many people would consider to be the 'beer geeks' circle who will find people similar to us and maybe stand and analyse the beers a bit. The average Joe might walk past that and think it's a bit snobbish but I don't really get that at all.
The atmosphere at Indy Man is very welcoming and accepting - people are just there for a good time. There was never a single point when the brewers didn't want to talk to us, even those we didn't know. Everyone is happy to enjoy a beer and have a chat.
What would be your one tip to help fellow punters make the most of the festival?
Try as many beers as possible and try beers from breweries you have not seen before. The brewery list is 50-strong but maybe half of the beer available you can probably get elsewhere. The other half you can only get at Indy Man Beer Con so it's worth pushing the boat out. Try the collaborations because they are always interesting.
The fact the festival is giving customers the opportunity to buy cans of any beer at the festival is just brilliant as well. They have seen a trend in the market and they have jumped on it. It's a really creative idea and just adds to the experience.
Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to at this year's event?
I want to try beers from Wylam Brewery after trying their Jakehead IPA and being really impressed. They seem to be making some great stuff. To be honest, I'm going to take the approach of sticking to new breweries and new beers so the likes of Halcyon and Cannonball can wait! I'm also looking forward to seeing what Galway Bay bring because if they bring their double IPA Of Foam and Fury, I might forget what I just said.