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. Today's blog focuses on organiser Claudia Asch...
Without wanting to blow your own trumpet, you must be pleased with how well IMBC has fared so far. What do you think has been the secret to your success?
We've always worked hard to be inclusive, to have something for everyone happening at IMBC that will make it memorable and make people want to return year on year. We love beer geeks, of course, and there will always be plenty for them at IMBC, such as the Tilquin tasting this year and some other surprises from Beermoth. But we also want to people just to have a great time in the splendour that is Victoria Baths, surrounded by great food and snacks, and excellent beer.
We try to go back to the drawing board each year and reinvent IMBC a little bit, and we think that that shows in the breweries that we choose, the food, the snacks, the talks and tastings, and the decor and set-up. It's about building beery (or cidery) memories that will bring people back year on year.
Given the huge number of breweries now operating in the UK, how do you go about choosing which are invited to participate?
In a nutshell, it's getting harder each year. We are always spoilt for choice and it's a balancing act, we want our good friends to come back, but we also want the opportunity to showcase some newcomers that we think are hitting above their weight already. Manchester's brewing landscape has changed quite a bit in the last year, and the same goes for all over the country.
A lot of names and breweries are circulated in our initial meetings, then we see who is actually up for it, particularly breweries from overseas. Then we suddenly find ourselves with a list of 50 breweries. Therefore, changing some breweries after three sessions gives us chance to showcase more.
What expectations do you place on the breweries in terms of the beer that is offered for the festival?
We encourage beer launches and specials. That is partially the idea behind us collaborating with breweries to bring some new beers to IMBC. Many breweries keep some specials tucked away for us or do a slightly different version of a beer for IMBC.
For some, it can be a bit of a test run. Thinking back to last year, Beavertown's Earl Phantom - a lemon, iced tea sour brewed in collaboration with IMBC - has been a big success for them, so much so they have rebrewed it and even canned it. We're quite proud of that.
Two years ago, Buxton brought a tea saison in cask that still gets talked about and in our first year, Brian Dickson - now head brewer at Northern Monk - used a Randall to add even more chillis to a chocolate chilli stout. People still remember how that kept getting hotter and hotter! Generally, people remember these beers and they know where they drank them.
Obviously there are always areas that can be improved. What changes have you made this year as a direct result of lessons learned from last year?
Oh boy, where to start? People asked about a separate bar for the collaboration beers last year so they will be on the Portable Street Beer House in room two this year. Those beers will be available throughout IMBC and we're hoping people really enjoy them — so much that there will be six packs and individual cans of the collabs for sale!
People also felt that cask wasn't visible, so we've gone back to our roots, like in the first year and have a dedicated cask bar in room two that will showcase lots of cask specials. All the food will be outside this year, mainly to reduce the food fog in room two that was a bit of a problem, and it has freed us up for more bars.
Cask did seem to be put in the shade a little at last year's festival, which was my biggest gripe. Was there any reason for this?
Perhaps we didn't really ensure that the cask offering was interesting enough last year but it's a difficult thing to gauge. Speaking to other festivals, there does seem to be a trend, however, that punters will try and go for more keg beers at an event than, say, if they spend an evening at the pub.
Now that we have a dedicated cask bar again, we hope that visitors will be able to find it easily and also recognise that there are some beers on there that they may never see again. As always, we'll ensure that the beer has been properly stillaged and is ready to go when we open on Thursday.
What is your top tip to help punters make the most out of the festival?
Crikey! Be experimental, be willing to try beer styles you've not tried before and try a brewery you've not tried before. The brewers will be on the bars, so pick their brains.
Go with the flow, explore the lovely Victoria Baths, be sure to eat what our lovely food vendors have on offer and hopefully, you'll have an amazing time.
Is there anything in particular we should look out for this year?
The brethren from Northern Monk are going to transform the Turkish Baths into a mini-abbey. David Walker from Firestone Walker will be at IMBC on Saturday and Sunday, so make a beeline for their bar in the Green Room if you want to meet him. He'll also be doing a talk on Firestone Walker and the California beer scene on Saturday night.
Then there are cans! We believe we're the first beer festival to have a takeaway canning service available. There will also be demos on off-flavours on Thursday and Friday from FlavorActiv, and much, much more.