Thursday, 15 October 2015 10:54

A golden age for British beer?

Indy Man Beer Con 2015 1

Are we currently experiencing a golden age for British beer?

It's a question that cropped up constantly during last week's Indy Man Beer Con, even forming the basis of a lively panel debate on the opening night.

And so intoxicating is the air of excitement and exuberance that surrounds the festival, it would have been easy to answer 'yes' without a moment's thought.

The resplendent beauty of Manchester's Victoria Baths and unbridled enthusiasm of the brewing community infect the brain with a potent strain of optimism that tends to overwhelm all else.

Such is the sense of carefree ebullience, at times it feels as if the world has stopped. As if nothing exists outside the warm, cosy bubble of beer and bonhomie - or, at least, nothing else matters.

But putting all that aside and applying a more level head to the question at hand, 'golden age' is overstating the situation somewhat.

It would be naive to suggest the modern British beer scene isn't completely free from flaws. The issues of price and quality standards have been covered at length elsewhere but one other challenge evident at Indy Man is the difficulty in extending the appeal of good beer beyond the white middle class - although price has been a driving factor here too.

Despite this, it is still an excellent era for drinkers and two beers at Indy Man, in particular, reaffirmed my belief in this.

Indy Man Beer Con 2015 3

Buxton Ice Cream Pale and Cloudwater Guji Sidamo coffee lager aren't typical benchmark beers but both highlight how modern, independent brewers have enriched the industry by introducing new approaches to supplement long-standing tradition.

Neither of these beers would have been commercially-produced 20 years ago - and many would still write them off as gimmicks now - but the accomplished nature in which these unique concepts were executed demonstrates the power of creativity and innovation.

It's not beer as we know it but the flavour combinations work so well, it becomes impossible to deny such experiments have a place in the beer-drinking experience.

And this is where the industry has benefited hugely in recent years.

I consider myself lucky to be able to pay less than £3 for a decent pint of bitter or mild in my local but also to find a wider range of cask at a number of more adventurous pubs in the area. I'm lucky to have easy access to a huge selection of modern styles produced by British micros but also to find the odd experiment that will push my palate outside of its comfort zone.

Not every experience will be a positive one and there's still much work to be done before the term 'golden age' applies, but the consumer is presented with greater choice than ever before.

Indy Man Beer Con highlights the advancements that have been made - and will continue to be made - as a result of the recent brewing boom, adding new layers to this country's already-rich tradition.

 Indy Man Beer Con 2015 2

Published in Beer
Wednesday, 07 October 2015 21:19

Indy Man advent calendar - day seven

Buxton 2

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), six (Steve Bentall, punter and blogger).

Today's blog, the final one in the series, features Buxton Brewery head brewer Colin Stronge.

 

Why do you think Indy Man has become one of the most talked-about events in the UK beer calendar?

I think it relates to their beginnings. They were really a breath of fresh air for the beer festival scene. When Europe was doing some spectacular festivals, the UK was really dragging it's heels and the vast majority of beer festivals here were still fairly characterless halls with warm, generally fairly poorly-managed beer.

Indy Man reached out to Europe and beyond, something that other beer festivals here often struggled to do with any success or real intent. The first IMBC was truly a kick up the ass for festivals on this island! Their embracing of some of the world's most innovative brewers really helped them establish themselves and continue to help them push new ground in the UK.

 

What have been your personal highlights from previous years?

The variety of spaces afforded by the venue is a real treat. You can always find a comfortable spot to suit any mood, or any beverage, due to the wonderful layout of the building.

 

What's your top tip for someone attending for the first time?

Don't spend too much time in any room! Make sure you see the variety of spaces available and enjoy a beer in each one.

 

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Being there for the whole festival! The last couple of years I have had to come and go due to brewery commitments, so have never been free to immerse myself in the vibe fully and missed some brewers whom I'd have loved to meet and whose beers I would've loved to have tasted. This year I'll avoid that (hopefully).

 

From a brewer's perspective, which other brewers do you tend to look out for at Indy Man?

There are a lot of ace brewers at the festival every year. I'm always delighted to see To Øl beers as they are always mindblowing, with their variations of styles and big, bold flavours. But my favourite to see is nearly always Thornbridge. They provide great variety, a wide range of styles and rarely a grain of malt or leaf of hop out of place. Styles nailed hard!

 

What can we expect from Buxton at this year's event?

We'll have a wide variety of beers on, lots of our collaborations from this year, some specials we've held back especially and some new beers too. Hopefully a little something for everyone.

 

Heading into Indy Man, are you pleased with how the year has gone for Buxton?

It's always really humbling to be invited to these events and asked to showcase our beers. We've had a pretty mad year with expansion, staff changes, collaborations, etc. But we've managed to create some beers that I am really happy with and, thankfully, seem to have been really well received by you guys.

We're always trying to look for new styles and new combinations of flavours and we've managed a lot of that this year. That's one of the best parts of the job!

It's always great to work with other brewers, good fun and a chance to expand your knowledge around the brewhouse. We have been very lucky to work with some of the best in the world this year. I hope the beers we've made together have done them all justice.

 

Published in Events
Tuesday, 06 October 2015 20:44

Indy Man advent calendar - day six

Indy Man Beer Con preview 5

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.

Published in Events
Tuesday, 06 October 2015 06:46

Indy Man advent calendar - day five

Indy Man Beer Con preview 2

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).

Today's blog features Todd Nicolson from Indy Man Beer Con newcomers New Zealand Craft Beer Collective, a collection of Kiwi brewers hoping to make a mark on the UK beer scene.

 

What's the background behind the New Zealand Craft Beer Collective and why was it formed? 

It's a collection of five independent breweries who were looking to share resources and help each other with the export and distribution side of things. You've got Renaissance, 8 Wired, Tuatara, Three Boys and Yeastie Boys who all offer something different to one another. Discussions about forming the collective started at the end of last year and we've been in the UK since February -  Craft Beer Rising was our first event in this country.

When we talk about the Collective and what the brewers wanted to achieve, much of it was born out of the fact we had shit beer in New Zealand so a lot of people decided to homebrew instead. There wasn't really that need elsewhere, especially in the UK where there is a strong brewing tradition. So it's created a little incubator in New Zealand because it's such a remote country and we've seen an interesting and varied beer scene grow really quickly.

What you're seeing is some really creative stuff and a really wide range of different approaches. At one end you have Renaissance, who are doing many traditional British styles with a Kiwi twist, but then you have Yeastie Boys making some weird and wonderful stuff. We just want to show people there is some great beer coming out of our country.

 

What made you decide to come to Indy Man Beer Con?

We were delighted to get the invite to Indy Man because it fit perfectly with our plans in this country. Over our first six months in this country, we've worked hard to establish ourselves in London and, because of that, our presence everywhere else has been nil.

But we have always been really keen to get our beer into Manchester and Leeds because both are great beer cities. There's a lot of good stuff going on in London but it's so spread out. But Leeds is more compact and Manchester, in particular, has a strong tradition so the beer scenes in each place have a really strong identity.

When we launched in both of these cities we wanted to go big, so we targeted Leeds International Beer Festival and then Indy Man as launch events for the collective. But the other reason why we were always keen on Indy Man was because so many people had told us it's the one event of the year you can't miss.

 

What can we expect to see from the NZ Craft Beer Collective at the festival?

Well, you won't miss us, that's for sure! We've got a huge banner that we'll bring with us and we treat these events like a party. For us, it's hard to know where the work ends and the play stops but we just want to communicate our enthusiasm for what we do.

We're bringing 45 different beers with us and will have 13 taps operating at any one time, so there will be a big mix available. We're pretty confident of the quality of the beer. If people come to us for a showcase of New Zealand hops, they'll be able to get that but there will also be a number of specials, one-offs and beers you'll never see again.

Yeastie Boys will be bringing the 2014 vintage of their annual specials His and Her Majesty, which change every year. We'll also have some of their Rex Attitude, which is one of the most divisive beers made in New Zealand. It's made with 100 per cent peated malt so is probably the beer equivalent of Laphroaig and it's one of those people should definitely try if they see it on.

We'll have Sauvinova from Tuatara, which is a great showcase of Nelson Sauvin hops. We'll also be bring some special green-hop beer with us, showcasing fresh New Zealand hops. So we'll be the only brewers at the event with green-hop beer.

 

Do you have anything else planned while you're in Manchester for the festival?

We've got a tap takeover at Port Street Beer House the day before the event because we really want to showcase what our brewers produce and get our beer in as many hands a possible.

We're also hoping to do five collaborations with Manchester breweries to tie in with the festival. We've already got two confirmed and want to organise a couple more too. Once we told the brewers that we have plenty of New Zealand hops to use, it didn't seem to be very hard for us to arrange collaborations! Once those beers are ready, in around a month's time, we're hoping to return to Port Street Beer House to launch the collaborations properly but you can expect to see us on the bar in Manchester a lot more in the future.

 

Published in Events
Sunday, 04 October 2015 19:00

Indy Man advent calendar - day four

Indy Man Beer Con preview 4

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).

Today's blog gains the perspective of Adam Watson, co-owner and brewer at American craft brewery Against the Grain, who return to Indy Man this year following a successful debut in 2014.

 

How does Indy Man Beer Con compare to festivals in America?

IMBC was actually pretty similar to many of the better Stateside festivals. The big difference for me was that most of the brewers there are not available stateside, so nearly every beer I tried was a beer I had never had before. In the States I have usually already tried most of the beers available at a festival.

Additionally, cask is pretty rare in the States. Most festivals have none and those that do tend to have one small area for it.

 

What are your personal reflections on Indy Man Beer Con following your visit last year?

I'm going to have to summarize here because there was quite a lot. The festival itself was fantastic and the venue is one of the most interesting venues I have ever seen a beer festival take place in. The aesthetics were beautiful and the plethora of different rooms allowed lots of distinct experiences. The array of beers available was also very cool.

All the brewers and drinkers I spoke with were really excited about the whole thing, so it was nice to be in such a positive atmosphere. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the collaborative brew we did with Northern Monk while I was over there - those guys are awesome.

 

Were there any particular highlights from last year's festival?

One of my favorite parts of the festival was the cellar sampling. Twice I was given the opportunity to lead a smaller tasting in the hallways downstairs and I really enjoyed those. The chance to pair up with another brewer and to share some details about a particular beer was extremely exciting for me.

I also really liked all the opportunities surrounding the festival itself. I spent a good deal of time at Port Street Beer House and wandering about Manchester with the other top notch brewers that came to IMBC. The meet the brewer event at Beermoth was fantastic as well.

 

What can we expect from Against the Grain at this year's festival?

Unfortunately I will not be in attendance this year but two of my business partners, Sam and Jerry, will be making it out there. They will also be doing collaborations with Magic Rock and Beermoth while there. Keep an eye out, they may weird your world up.

 

Are you keen to develop more of a presence in the UK market?

Absolutely. We have increased our production volume significantly in the last few months and we are still figuring out which markets should be getting our additional liquid. Hopefully we can start growing our presence in the UK.

 

What do you make of the state of independent brewing in the UK?

With the relatively small sample size I have, I'm not sure I am qualified to answer this but I'll take a crack anyway. It seems like there is a lot of innovation and growth among small brewers in the UK. I have always found it interesting to watch the differences in growing a craft scene in a country where there was little pre-existing beer culture (USA) versus a country where there is a strong traditional beer culture (UK).

Perhaps because of the strong traditional culture in the UK, it took you guys longer to get in a groove on craft brewing but things seem to be humming along nicely now.

The barrier to entry in the US is a lot higher because alcohol is such a highly regulated industry. We have to play by a lot of rules that don't apply in the UK. It looks like you guys are taking full advantage of your relatively low barrier to entry and churning out some impressive smaller brewers who are pushing the envelope of innovation in really interesting ways.

Published in Events
Sunday, 04 October 2015 09:10

Indy Man advent calendar - day three

Indy Man Beer Con preview 3

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)two (Mark Welsby, Runaway Brewery).

Today's blog asks Chris Dixon, a regular volunteer and co-organiser of Birmingham Beer Bash, for his thoughts on the festival.

 

Why do you think Indy Man Beer Con has become so popular, so quickly?

Indy Man is clearly the leader in the 'craft beer' revolution of beer festivals. They've chucked out a lot of crap CAMRA event pathos and replaced it with vibrancy, effervescence and downright fabulous ideas.

 

You volunteer at a lot of different festivals but what makes Indy Man Beer Con different from others?

From a volunteer perspective, there's much more of an element of camaraderie over the whole group than at most other festivals. The interaction between volunteers, brewers and Indy Man staff is pretty much perfect.

 

What have been your highlights from previous years?

My highlight is always 'who's the new kid on the block that's going to get the Turkish Baths?' Last year's Beavertown party is going to be hard to top. This year my money's on New Zealand Beer Collective, by the way.

 

What are you most looking forward to this year?

I'll be honest, I haven't really looked at the brewery and beer list yet because I'm working most of the event - as normal! I guess I'd say the revamped cask spots, if pressed. There is the promise of super rare beers just in cask, which is really appealing because cask is still my first love.

 

What's your best tip for someone attending for the first time?

Have a look around. Soak in the atmosphere then go and find out which brewers are serving you. It really is the biggest highlight for the casual observer. Ignore the beer list and go and talk to these guys instead. They'll find your perfect beer, I promise. My first year I managed to blag a spot serving with Kjetl from Nøgne Ø and he was awesome!

 

Given you're a regular festival volunteer, what motivates you to do it?

Two main reasons. Firstly, you learn a heck of a lot. Even those old-fashioned guys at CAMRA have taught me shedloads of things. My job is nothing to do with beer so it's a completely different experience. Lifting stuff, fixing broken equipment or lashing together fixes for the unexpected - I've learnt this in spades.

Secondly, you meet so many absolutely amazing people. From brewers to landlords, from bloggers to people that genuinely just love beer. And then it takes over your life. As a single guy, with few overheads and a decent job, it's pretty much the perfect pastime.

 

What is the one thing you would ask of punters that would make volunteers' lives that much easier?

Just to remember that we are just that. Volunteers. We don't know everything but give us a chance and we'll sort you out.

Published in Events
Saturday, 03 October 2015 07:31

Indy Man advent calendar - day two

Runaway Brewery 4

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).

Today's blog asks Mark Welsby, head brewer from Manchester brewery Runaway, for his thoughts on their hometown festival.

 

Why do you think IMBC has become such a highlight in the UK beer calendar?

In a nutshell, Indy Man seems to capture everything that's progressive and exciting about the UK beer scene right now, rams it into one of the most beautiful buildings in the country and fills it with people who are passionate about beer. What's not to like? In my view it has totally redefined the idea of a beer festival and people love it for that.

 

Being a Manchester brewery, does it represent a particular source of pride when you are invited to participate?

Of course. I remember sitting in the Ladies pool at IMBC in 2013 when our little brewery was still in planning stages. We were looking at the calibre of the breweries involved and laughing with friends about how, one day, we might get invited. That possibility seemed such a long way off, I can tell you. So to have been invited this year is a source of great pride for us. We're really looking forward to it.

 

What have been your highlights from previous years?

The choice of beers on rotation is fantastic. Unlike a lot of other festivals, every session offers something new to try, which is great. I always enjoy a wander around the baths because its such a great interior and I have been found sitting up in the old spectator area just drinking it in once or twice. I really enjoyed meeting Bruno from Toccalmatto last year too and it's great that you can meet the brewers serving their own beer.

 

What's your best tip for someone attending for the first time?

Listen out for impromptu tastings and meet the brewer pop up events. These are a good opportunity to ask questions, try beer for free and learn more about the story behind a beer or brewery. (Listen out for a bell, which usually signifies the start of one of these events. But be quick, places are limited. Ed.)

 

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Working at the festival on Saturday and Sunday will be good - being behind the bar for a change is something we really enjoy. Its a great way to get instant feedback on our beer and there's nothing quite like seeing somebody enjoy the fruits of your labour. I hope we can put a smile of one or two faces.

 

What makes IMBC different from other festivals?

As a drinker - the quality of the breweries showcasing their less mainstream beers and the beer rotation across sessions so that every session feels like a different festival from a beer perspective. The venue and food are great too, so it's hard to think of somewhere better.

As I said earlier, I think of IMBC as the prototype for the modern beer festivals. It feels very relevant and it really captures the spirit of the beer scene right now. It really feels authentic, collaborative and independent, and the beer on show represents some of the most diverse, exciting and innovative out there, from some of the best breweries in the UK and beyond.

 

What can we expect from Runaway at this year's IMBC?

What? Apart from highly unprofessional bar service? Well, we'll be launching our new double IPA and will serve that alongside a couple of very limited edition collaborations we've done with Indy Man Brew House, Pig and Porter and Crisp Maltings.

We've saved a couple of specials that people may not have had chance to try over the summer too, so hopefully there'll be a few new things to folks to try. We've also let Chorlton Brewing Co loose on our IPA, so fascinated to see how it turns out.

Published in Events
Thursday, 01 October 2015 16:26

Indy Man advent calendar - day one

 IMBC recap 1

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.

Published in Events

Indy Man Beer Con 2014 11. Beer folk are good folk

Nothing new there eh? Well, probably not but the sense of camaraderie and bonhomie seemed to reach its peak at Indy Man. No other festival captures the exuberant spirit and collaborative nature of modern British brewing quite like this one.

I've seen the festival's mood dismissed in some quarters as elitist or cliquish but there's a distinct absence of the snobbery and contempt associated with those particular traits.

Given Indy Man's focus is on presenting the best of beer from the sharp end of the craft scene, it would be easy for the festival and its participants to take itself far too seriously. On the contrary, it remains one of the most openly enjoyable, fun events on the beer calendar. Although I went with friends on both days I attended, I spent as much of my time speaking to new acquaintances and other likeminded folk.

My potential would undoubtedly be different if I wasn't an active member of the beer community but even casual drinkers I encountered couldn't help but find themselves absorbed by the carefree ebullience of the event.

It's possible to over-think these things in the search for agendas that don't necessarily exist. Yes, the beer community created a supernova of social media smugness in the days before and during the event but maybe that's just because people were excited rather than seeking recognition or validation.

For once, can we try to see the best rather than assume the worst (and yes, I'm fully aware that's rich coming from me)?

 

2. Thirds are for life not just for festivals

I'll never give up the pint. What kind of self-respecting northerner would I be if I started drinking exclusively smaller measures? I'd be hunted down and driven from Manchester for a start.

The humble pint also has an intangible satisfying quality - the 'ahhh' effect - something which appears to be hard-wired in me, or at least socially conditioned.

That's all well and good when you're drinking bitter, mild or session pale ales but anything significantly stronger and you're entering dangerous territory.

The enforced third measure at Indy Man introduces a different style of drinking, one that made me stop and savour, enjoying the beer for what it was rather than the effect it was having on me.

I'll steer clear of describing it as more 'refined' because it definitely wasn't that and nor would I want it to be. However, it did allow me to sample a huge amount of different styles, flavours and experiences at a leisurely pace that avoided the social pressure of hardcore supping.

Hopefully more pubs and bars will start to expand the range of measures offered because choice can never be a bad thing and helps to broaden the range of experience that can be enjoyed while drinking beer.

 

Indy Man Beer Con 2014 43. Sour is the new black

In previous years, I've possibly been guilty of seeking out the biggest, baddest beers at Indy Man - those high-ABV monsters that lure you in with promises of delight and decadence before smiting you with the most vicious, spiteful curse.

This year I was determined to do things differently and sought out more beers at the lower end of the spectrum, particularly during the Friday afternoon session.
In previous years this would have meant highly-hopped session pales but, this year, I found myself swimming in a sea of sour.

There was Beavertown's Earl Phantom, a lip-smackingly tart lemon ice tea sour brewed as a collaboration with the festival organisers, Kernel's Raspberry London Sour, Evil Twin's Bikini Sour, Mad Hatter's Manchester Tart, Quantum's Berliner Schwarz, Buxton's Red Raspberry Rye and many others still.

Sours are undoubtedly en vogue at the moment but that's not necessarily a bad thing given it's resulted in the revival of styles such as gose, berliner weisse and grätzer, which had previously found only niche markets.

There is a danger breweries will begin to rush to these styles without first perfecting the techniques and there have undoubtedly been a few such beers recently that have delivered a huge, overwhelming sourness and very little else.

But when executed well, they are stunningly accomplished and provide a unique drinking experience that probably falls well outside what would typically be considered as 'beer'.

I've discussed faddishness in beer on this blog previously and it does present certain problems but this clamour for the new and unusual has at least resulted in a much wider range of available beer across the full spectrum. That can't be a bad thing.

 

4. Keg is putting cask in the shade

Without wishing to open this particular can of worms again, it did feel like cask was seen as the poor relation at this year's Indy Man.

This isn't a criticism of the festival organisers as such - in many ways they are probably just responding to demand from the punters and supply from the brewers - but keg was definitely king.

These beers were front and centre at each bar, displayed boldly in the immediate line of sight, while the cask list was usually tacked on at either side, in one case a piece of card attached to a wooden plank.

This resulted in some punters missing some of the stunning cask beers on offer, including Siren and De Molen's excellent Empress Stout at the bargain basement price of £1 for a third.

Personally, I'm not inclined towards any particular form of dispense. I drink more keg but only because the beers I tend to gravitate towards are more suited to this particular form.

In the case of something like Empress, however, I feel it benefitted hugely from being served on cask, the extra body and lower carb accentuating the smooth richness of an indulgent imperial stout.

I might be wrong but there did seem to be more of an even split between cask and keg in previous years and I'd love to see more cask crop up next time round.

 

5. Beer festival food doesn't have to consist of a frozen burger in a bap

I was an avid festival-goer long before Indy Man, as the concept of being able to spend several hours sampling a huge variety of new, rare and exciting beers unsurprisingly appeals.

One thing I had become resigned to as a result of previous experiences was the need to eat the kind of crap I would never dream of making at home or else face the consequences delivered by a lack of sustenance.

The typical choice was a frozen burger slapped on a white bap, neon yellow chicken curry with undercooked rice or a tray of chips that had been left in the fryer five minutes too long.

Whatever way, the outlook wasn't good.

Luckily, Indy Man has refused to follow tradition in this respect and the selection at this year's event was even better than previous years.

Giant, loaded hot dogs, monstrous burgers from Almost Famous, hearty pies, pizza and Indian chaat all stuffed our stomachs. My personal highlight was the fish tacos from Margo and Rita, substantial enough to fill a hole, light enough to sit perfectly alongside a hop-forward pale ale or IPA.

We shouldn't have to tolerate expensive and hastily-assembled slop.

 

Indy Man Beer Con 2014 26. Beer geeks love to mess about in changing rooms

The Edwardian splendour of Victoria Baths is undoubtedly one of the major factors in Indy Man's success.

On the approach, it feels like you're attending a beer festival at Wayne Manor and what's not to like about that?

Inside, the two pools are filled with bars and even the Turkish Baths, adorned with stunning glazed tiles and many of their original fittings, host one brewery (this year it was Beavertown).

But possibly the most enjoyable feature is the individual changing stalls which line the perimeter of the pools - their rusted, cracking blue paint hinting at better times, the red-and-white striped curtains still hanging limply from many of them.

It's hard not to be infected by the magic of such handsome, historically significant surroundings but the stalls, in particular were a magnet for merry beer geeks. So much so that we all became desensitised to the sight of bare-chested men stood proudly behind their doors throughout the weekend. I only hope they kept their trousers on.

 

7. Pub crawl before tea except after IMBC

Best laid plans go to waste - an adage that rings especially true after five hours at a beer festival.

I'm usually a fan of an afternoon start to a pub crawl, as it means you're able to move leisurely from venue to venue before the chaos of the night crowd sets in.

But starting a pub crawl in the late afternoon, immediately after Indy Man and without stopping to intake solids of substantial nutritional value is idiocy of the highest order. Go straight to craft jail, do not pass 'Go', do not collect your third of Zwanze.

So those people who questioned the wisdom of myself and Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show for attempting to arrange a Manchester crawl immediately after the Saturday afternoon session at Indy Man were spot on. It fell apart after the second stop.

Ah well, you live and you learn.

 

8. With great power comes great responsibility

This might sound a little worthy and self-important but, as beer lovers, I feel we all have a responsibility to help educate the general public on good beer.

There were a couple of occasions at Indy Man where this was made abundantly clear.

The first incident involved an acquaintance of mine, the other a complete stranger but both times, the person in question found themselves completely over-faced by the selection of beer in offer at one of the bars.

Without trying to be pushy, I offered my assistance, enquired about their tastes and attempted to provide a little bit of information on the available beers and brewers. In the case of my acquaintance, at least, it was appreciated... I think.

But the point is everyone arrives at the bar with different levels of understanding or knowledge and, in the appropriate circumstances well-intentioned advice is appropriate.

In this vein, the pop-up tastings at Indy Man were a good idea. A bell was rung to signal the start of the session, samples were handed out and a brewer chatted passionately about their beer for five minutes or so. It was a good way to bring punters' attention to beers they might not otherwise have tried and to pass on a little background information.

The spread of good beer depends on good advocates and, aside from the breweries themselves, that means us.

 

9. Solitude is bliss

Emma made an excellent point in her blog over at Crema's Beer Odyssey about the charm of Victoria Baths.

Aside from the obvious aesthetic beauty, it's the variety of the venue that makes it so perfect for a beer festival.

If you ever want to escape the crowds, there are a huge number of nooks and crannies you can crawl into to enjoy a moment with your beer.

The terraces overlooking two of the rooms both had adequate and sparsely-populated seating areas, while the outside area was developed further this year to offer an opportunity for fresh air - brave considering the Manchester weather.

Tickets aren't over-sold either so, even at its busiest, Indy Man never feels stifling or claustrophobic.

 

Indy Man Beer Con 2014 310. Organising a piss-up in a swimming pool isn't easy

I find it incredible that, despite the scale and duration of the event, there were very few hiccups throughout the course of the weekend.

A few minor speed bumps were encountered along the way, including a brief fobbing issue on one of the keg bars, but they were dealt with quickly and efficiently.

The organisers didn't stop running from pillar to post all weekend and the volunteers generally combined warmth with know-how. They all deserve great credit for pulling it off.

 

My top five beers from Indy Man

1. Evil Twin Imperial Doughnut Break. Shouldn't work but it just does - rich chocolate, bitter coffee and the sugary, doughy goodness of freshly-baked doughnuts. Delightful!

2. Summer Wine Twiggy IPA. A glorious representation of English hops, the aroma of a blackberry bush combined with full-on flavours of marmalade, damson jam and earthy spice.

3. Toccalmatto Delta Red Disorder. A sherbet bomb, blood orange and grapefruit jumping, cartwheeling and exploding off a hefty caramel base.

4. Beavertown Earl Phantom. A clean, sharp, easy-drinking beauty that threw a lip-smacking punch of lemon, followed it with a sprinkling of lemon and lime zest and rounded it off with earthy, mildly tannic tea.

5. Against the Grain Citra Ass Down. The right beer at the right time, a big, sticky hop hit to offset a previous parade of sours.

Published in Events
Friday, 03 October 2014 11:01

Preview: Indy Man Beer Con 2014

IMBC recap 1Preview: Indy Man Beer Con

Victoria Baths, Manchester, Thursday October 9 to Sunday October 12

This is Manchester, we do things differently here.

When Tony Wilson uttered those famous words, they were tinged with more than a hint of bias.

The man known as 'Mr Manchester' was prone to outpourings of unbridled civic pride but amid the gushing sentiment is shrouded a piece of acute observation.

Right from the start this city has resolved to plough its own furrow, both through economic necessity and belief in a distinct identity, fuelling a strong aversion to conformity.

This refusal to follow established trends has kept Manchester at the cutting edge of cultural innovation - a thread that has been picked up by Indy Man Beer Con.
Although London's sheer size has facilitated an explosion of bars and breweries that has positioned it at the forefront of the craft scene, Manchester's significance has been cemented by this groundbreaking festival.

The formula is reasonably straightforward - after all, there's only so much you can do with a beer festival - but it's the attention to detail that sets Indy Man apart.

Meticulous planning is applied to the beer list, encompassing both cask and keg, with participants selected according to a ruthless quality standard, ensuring an unrivalled blend of one-offs, wild experiments and consistent quality.

As it enters its third year, there's a growing sense that brewers hold back their best for this four-day celebration in Manchester's magnificent Victoria Baths, casting aside the safety net provided by their core ranges to push the boat out with a number of specials and new brews.

IMBC3After all, isn't that the point of a festival? To sample the kind of beers you might not otherwise get the chance to during the course of a night down the local.

And this year's beer list, which was unveiled today, goes even further than previous years, combining the best of Britain's new and established talent with rare and exciting imports from the likes of Against the Grain, Evil Twin, Loverbeer, Stillwater Artisanal.

"Our success so far has been a combination of a lot of things," says Claudia Asch, festival organiser. "One is the support we have in the brewing community, meaning that breweries from around the UK and now further afield want to be involved and serve their beers.

"We also try to make the event appeal to a diverse crowd, a bit of something for everyone, from the seasoned beer geeks to those just getting excited by great beer. For the beer geeks in particular, our collaborations create a bit of additional interest, bringing unique beers to the event.

"We realise that we have to introduce some new features each year, because now there will be people who have attended the previous years, so expectations continue to push us to be innovative.

" There are so many specials and obviously the collaborations on offer, there really ought to be something for everyone to get really excited about.

"As far as special and really exclusive goes, look no further than Loverbeer. Valter Loverier produces some amazing sour beers — and not very much of it, so we are very, very fortunate he is coming!"

This international element is something that looks set to grow in years to come.

Alongside the new additions, the likes of Brewfist, Toccalmatto and To Øl all return after successful showings in 2013.

"The festival will have a more global feel in years to come," says Claudia. "The brewing world is pretty small, so we're hoping that the good word about IMBC continues to spread to bring some more international brewers to the baths.

"We are over the moon that Brian Strumke (Stillwater) and Adam Watson (Against the Grain) are joining us for the first time this year, along with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø from Evil Twin, and Valter Loverier from Loverbeer."

Another area undergoing continuous expansion is the collaborative effort between the festival organisers and brewers.

This year the team having travelled the length and breadth of the country - and made a quick trip to Italy - to brew an incredible 15 collaborations especially for the festival.

When it comes to rarities, these are as scarce as it gets and previous years' creations have been among the highlights on the beer list, Thornbridge's Otter's Tears, Marble's Farmhouse IPA and Buxton's Tea Saison all sticking in the mind from last year.

Claudia adds, "We're excited about trying all of them! It's going to be a challenge to try them all, but worth a go.

"We hope the spread of beers will satisfy everyone, as there will be a gose, a couple of Berliner weisse, a barley wine, a super hoppy red ale, a huge double IPA and two very different Saisons - and that's not all."

IMBC recap 2

Given the emphasis on experimentation and adventure, there is a risk Indy Man might get pigeon-holed as an event aimed exclusively at the sharp end of the craft scene, limiting its potential appeal to the beer tickers and Untappd obsessives.

The Great British Beer Festival, for example, benefits from an immediately wider reach, largely due to its scale and CAMRA's national profile, but Indy Man's organisers claim to have noticed a growing diversity each year.

"Judging from last year, where we had groups of people attend to celebrate birthdays and even work dos, we think that the interest in good beer (and cider, for that matter) is spreading," says Claudia.

"Of course there are still a lot of beer geeks, and we'd venture to suggest that all of those with Full Fat tickets, attending all sessions, are certainly beer geeks extraordinaire.

"We certainly hope to cater to tastes of all kinds, from those that only want to drink barrel-aged saisons to those only getting started in their beer journey.

"It's all about discovery and sharing beers."

One factor that bodes well in this respect is Indy Man's progressive nature.

The food offering, including a beer matched meal from Masterchef finalist Jackie Kearney appeals to the foodie with a passing interest in beer, while the range of musical acts and DJs make the more casual drinkers feel at home by alleviating the serious nature of the devoted beer hunting occuring elsewhere.

Then there are a range of talks, debates and tastings that take place on the fringes of the festival, which offer a great opportunity for people to learn more about the beers they are drinking and interact with the people making them.

This year's programme includes a number of exclusive tasting sessions, a discussion around the American craft brewing scene, a seminar on the science of yeast and a homebrewing chat and tasting hosted by yours truly.

But, even without taking into any of this into account, Indy Man offers a fairly unique experience - an event that captures the enthusiastic, inclusive nature of modern brewing without patronising or taking itself too seriously.

And, importantly, the organisers are determined not to rest on their laurels.

"There are always lessons to be learned, to be honest," says Claudia. "We're working hard to respond to suggestions from volunteers, brewers, and punters - we got a lot of useful feedback after both years.

"For instance, most people seemed to rate the joining up of cask and keg bars and were pleased with the food offerings last year. We have a couple of new food traders this year, and are working on more snack options as well.

"There are definitely some new approaches in the works, but we don't want to reveal too much in advance."

A limited number of tickets are still available for Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Visit the Indy Man site for more details.

Published in Events
Thursday, 17 October 2013 13:06

Recap: Indy Man Beer Con

IMBC recap 1No sign of second-year syndrome here.

It seemed unthinkable that Indy Man Beer Con would surpass the success of its inaugural outing but, somehow, it did exactly that.

There can no longer be any ambiguity. It is simply the most significant event in the British beer calendar, particularly for those wishing to gain an insight into the bright, bold future promised by the nascent microbrewing scene. 

Sod the Great British Beer Festival. Quality beer and bonhomie trump sheer quantity every time and IMBC strikes a better balance between variety and intimacy, coupling a selection that starred plenty of rarities and one-offs with the kind of atmosphere you'd find down your local boozer.

Throw in the splendiferous surroundings of Victoria Baths and the event becomes a veritable Willy Wonka's factory devoted to the art of experimentation and perfection in beer.

Step inside the grand Edwardian building and enter a world where good beer is the norm, acting as a unifying passion rather than a divisive issue. Cask, keg, bottle, none of it really matters. Snort the bloody stuff if you'd like as long as you enjoy yourself.

IMBC recap 2It's this kind of attitude that makes IMBC such a joy. I've already mentioned elsewehere on this blog the important role the people play in its success but it can't be overstated.

The sense of inclusion and warmth is almost tangible. Organisers, volunteers, brewers, beer geeks and the rest mingle together to share a drink, an anecdote, a joke or a drunken moment. There's something so much more personal about the event than other beer festivals.

By and large, the beer didn't disappoint either, although it was one area which aroused a slight quibble.

In comparison to last year the selection did seem a little less varied, particularly in terms of the brewers in attendance, but, ironically, this may have been a result of the festival of getting bigger.

Having expanded from two days to four, breweries were spread a little more thinly across the full duration of the event, making the nightly beer lists seem slightly less diverse. The organisers certainly wouldn't do any harm by adding a few more different breweries next time round.

But, that said, I didn't leave the event unsatisfied, squeezing 25 new beers into my two nights and finding some real crackers. In no particular order, the stand-outs included:

Thornbridge Raspberry Imperial Stout (10%). An indulgent impy stout that packs in plenty of fresh, tart, raspberry sharpness, coming through clear as a bell. Although surprisingly light bodied, it also delivers bags of roasted malt, rich dark chocolate, liquorice and sweet dark fruits. Right up my street.

Brodies Only Human (12.2%). A shogun assassin of a beer at 12.2%. You wouldn't even hear this creeping up on you before it delivers the telling blow that takes your head clean off. An unbelievably gluggable triple IPA despite the intensity of flavours, assaulting you with a barrage of caramel, pine, orange, pineapple and mango, chock full of sticky, chewy hops.

Marble Farmhouse IPA (7.4%). Another brewed specifically for the event and a really enjoyable, easy drinker thanks to fresh, soft lemon flavours, earthy yeast and a palate-cleansing, dry finish.IMBC3

Summer Wine Calico Jack rum barrel-aged (10.9%). A real boozy treat that has been aged in Appleton Estate barrels. A powerful imperial stout full of big, rich flavours including rum, demerara sugar, vanilla, treacle, liquorice and oak with a warming alcohol heat and mouth-numbing spiciness.

To Øl Reparationsbajer (5.8%). Although designed to be the perfect beer for drinking on a hangover, I can imagine it's also pretty good at inducing a hangover. Extremely moreish APA matching a touch of light honey and a good dose of biscuity malt with loads of tropical, citrus hops.

Birra del Borgo Genziana (6.2%). A deliciously delicate beer brewed with gentian apparently, which, for culinary ogres like myself, is a bitter flowering plant. Initially sweet and fruity, it develops into a fresh, grassy beer with hints of coriander and parsley accompanied by spicy yeast and doughy malt.

More generally, it was great to see the Italian microbrewing scene had such a strong presence at the festival. The explosion of microbrewed beer in Italy has been one of the more intriguing stories of recent years, so it was pleasing that British drinkers got the chance to try Birra Del Borgo, Brewfist, Toccalmatto and Birrificio Italiano on cask and keg.

Buxton Tea Saison (6.3%). A collaboration with the event's organisers and a wonderfully balanced fruity beer, which combined earthy, peppery yeast with excellent sweet and sour flavours of cranberries and cherries. Neither element was allowed to outshine the other and it worked perfectly.

Alpha State Smoked Belgian Pale (5%). Another superbly balanced beer that found a happy medium between smoke and hops, starting out a light woody, smoky bacon before giving way to sharp citrus hops and finishing dry as a bone.

Lovibonds Sour Grapes (4.6%). An invigorating sour beer that delivers a mouth-puckering splash of sourness full of lemon and wine, followed by wheat and thick doughy, biscuity notes that offer the ideal counterpoint.

There were others too but I won't bore you any longer. Next year is already in the diary.

Published in Events
Friday, 11 October 2013 10:47

Opening thoughts from Indy Man Beer Con

IMBC1It's the morning after the night before. So how was it for you?

Indy Man Beer Con kicked off last night, riding an incredible wave of positivity into its second year of existence.

The sentiment across social media and among those I had spoken to was one of unbridled excitement. It really was difficult to find a cynical viewpoint anywhere, such was the success of the inaugural event.

So what's changed?

Well, primarily more rooms and live music. Last year, the beers were split among three rooms at the iconic Victoria Baths (the sports hall, gala pool and the Turkish baths) but this time round a further pool has been opened to house a performance space and keg bar (pictured below).

Food and cask can still be found in the main sports hall, while Magic Rock have replaced Brewdog as resident brewers in the Turkish Baths - a vast improvement if you ask me.

The nature of the venue immediately adds an inescapable allure to the festival. The grand pools, glazed tilework, rusted changing stalls and stained glass windows all hint at a proud past and make it seem less venue and more place of worship - a fitting setting for beer geeks to bow at the altar of Britain's best and brightest.

IMBC2

Victoria Baths is such a dazzling piece of Mancunian history, it seems somewhat poignant that it is able to play host to such a landmark event. There really couldn't be a better setting for the festival.

So, to the beers and if there's one minor criticism, it's that there does seem to be a bit less variety than last year. On first glance, there appeared to be more beers but fewer brewers, possibly because the selection has been sprinkled across the entire four days of the event.

But to bemoan the variety is akin to complaining about the lack of an umbrella while stood indoors. You're pretty well covered anyway.

Much of my focus was on trying one-off beers and rarities, so I started with Quantum's Imperial Treacle Stout, a collaborative brew designed specifically for the festival. At 9.1%, it was the perfect way to ease myself into the evening - start as you mean to go on and all that - and a pretty solid beer with strong notes of bitter treacle toffee and smoke, although it could've maybe stood to be a bit more full-bodied.

The Buxton Tea Saison (6.3%) was the best of the special collaborative brews I tried, a wonderfully balanced fruity beer, which combined earthy yeast with excellent sweet and sour flavours of cranberries and cherries.

The Roosters Huckleberry IPA (6.9%) was well worth a try too, a well-rounded IPA that filled the mouth with the taste of rich, juicy berries and delivered a well-judged dose of hops.

My favourite beer, however, had to be Alpha State's Smoked Belgian Pale (5%). I'm a huge fan of smoked beers anyway (if you've got a connect for Schlenkerla's Eiche Doppelbock, hook me up) and this struck a great balance between the different flavours, starting out a light smoky bacon before giving way to sharp citrus hops and finishing dry as a bone. I've not had a beer from Alpha State that I've disliked yet.

Lovibonds' Sour Grapes was another I'd heartily recommend with an invigorating, mouth-puckering splash of sourness full of lemon and wine, followed by a thick doughy, biscuity taste that offers the ideal counterpoint.

Aside from the beers, a large part of Indy Man's appeal comes from the chance to rub shoulders with the people who brew the beers and all of last night's talks and seminars seemed to go down a storm.

I attended the dry-hopping seminar hosted by Simply Hops, which showcased three examples of dry-hopping on the same base beer, all brewed by Liverpool's excellent Mad Hatter.

IMBC4

It perfectly highlighted the importance of later hop additions in imparting flavour and aroma and the wild variations in hop flavours while highlighting just how many variables can alter the taste of the beer you drink.
 
One of Indy Man's greatest strengths is the people. It manages to bring together a huge number of passionate individuals all keen to exchange knowledge, ideas and opinion, creating a warming sense of bonhomie and camaraderie throughout all the rooms.
 
To top it all off, the food is great too. Get a fish taco from Margo & Rita and I offer my own personal guarantee you won't regret it.
 
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not buying a weekend ticket but I will, at least, be back on Saturday night. Feel free to say hello if you fancy remonstrating with me about something I've written on this blog. I may even give you a bottle of my questionable homebrew. 
Published in Events
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 21:49

Event focus: Indy Man Beer Con

Indy Man Beer ConManchester, so much to answer for.

Love him or loathe him, Morrissey was right.

They do things differently here - for better or for worse - and it has always been a great source of civic pride.

After all, this was the city that gave birth to the industrial revolution in the late 19th century and sparked a cultural shift at the end of the 20th century that transformed British music and fashion.

It seems fitting then that the burgeoning beer revolution should draw a significant dose of impetus and energy from within the boundaries of our great city.

Granted, London acts as the permanent centre of the scene, due to a phenomenal proliferation of pubs, bars and brewers, but Manchester was responsible for one of the movement's seminal moments.

Indy Man Beer Con almost acted as a rallying call, bringing the industry together last year for an innovative gathering that provided the blueprint for the modern beer festival.

This was cask, keg and food coming together in perfect harmony against the stunning backdrop of Victoria Baths. It might have been slightly surreal drinking beer while stood in an empty Victorian swimming pool – or inside one of the many cubicle changing rooms lining the perimeter – but somehow it was perfect.

Indy Man combined wild innovation with brewing tradition, delighting the beer geeks and sparking new interest in those who had stumbled along looking for a good time.

This year's event promises to be even better, running from Thursday, October 10 to Sunday, October 13 and boasting a star-studded line-up of brewers that includes local heroes, national powerhouses and foreign rarities.

The roster of events promises to be just as good, featuring 'meet the brewer' spots with Red Willow, Wild Beer, Howling Hops and Pressure Drop, live music and a beer and food-matched meal hosted by Masterchef 2011 winner Tim Anderson.

Indy Man Beer Con

Then there are the beers brewed specifically for the event. Last year, Quantum's blood orange tea pale ale was among a handful of never-before-seen specialities to excite the palates of those in attendance and this year's selection promises to be even stronger. "We've brewed five collaborations with Quantum, Buxton, Marble, Roosters, and Thornbridge for this year's IMBC," says co-organiser Claudia Asch. "We're really pleased with those beers and think that sets us apart.

"Some of those beers will appear in cask, some in keg, which is great, because the goal is to champion beer, in its manifold formats. But beyond that, lots of brewers have been pushing the boat out and have experimented, so we're chuffed by the response.

"We don't want to give away too much, but we think it's safe to say that IMBC ought to delight Untappd users, Ratebeerians, and non-beer geeks alike."

One of the more intriguing elements of this year's festival may be the Italian influence. The country's microbrewery explosion has resulted in the emergence of some truly superb beers and Toccalmatto, Birra del Borgo, Brewfist, and Birrificio Italiano will all be in attendance to display their wares. A must if you are still unfamiliar with what each has to offer – their beers covering the entire gamut from updated classics to experimental oddities.

And there is yet more to be announced.

"We are just finalising some more events and will have those up shortly," adds Claudia. "The support for IMBC has been amazing, and we're definitely on notice to make this year's experience build on last year.

"Our goal is to give visitors a varied and exciting experience, to dazzle taste buds, as well offer those who want to learn more about who and what is behind making beer the chance to do so. We're excited, and can't wait to welcome people back to the baths!"

Published in Events