The unglamourous life of the lone brewer is a far cry from the white-collar world of big business.
Slick suits are traded in for workwear speckled with caustic burns. A modern office fashioned from sparkling glass and steel is scrapped in favour of a dingy industrial unit clad in corrugated metal.
And the buzz of a busy office is swapped for the rumbling groan of trains passing overhead.
Given the obvious differences, the route from corporate cog to solitary labourer might not appear to represent an obvious career path but it was exactly this contrast that appealed to Mark Welsby of Runaway Brewery. After 15 years working as a environmental engineer, he had reached breaking point and saw brewing as the perfect escape route.
Joining forces with long-time friend Darren Clayson, he took a huge leap of faith and bought Bespoke Brewing's old five-barrel kit to fit inside an industrial unit beneath a railway arch in Manchester's Green Quarter. Eighteen months later, Runaway has developed a reputation as one of the most reliable new breweries in Manchester.
"Darren had sold his business and I was miserable as sin in my job," says Mark. "We had both spent most of our lives working in corporate environments, which we hated, so we reached a point where we thought 'if we don't do something now, we're going to look back and think we've missed the opportunity'.
"Darren is a beer obsessive and CAMRA member, and I love the whole pub culture so starting a brewery really appealed to us both. The business environment in brewing is also relatively supportive because the industry is very collaborative and there are lots of microbreweries who help each other out. So it was a chance to move from a very competitive, corporate environment to the opposite of that, which was attractive.
"I just find the whole brewing process very satisfying and there's something tangible at the end. I used to do consultancy and there was nothing tangible about that. Actually having a product which you're proud of is a big change for me and it makes your efforts seem much more worthwhile.
"It was a life decision as much as a beer decision. I could say I loved beer so much that I had to open a brewery but it wasn't about that. It was more that I wanted to improve my life.
"I knew I wasn't motivated by money because, in my previous role, the more successful I got, the more miserable I got. Brewing gave us the chance to leave everything we hated about our previous jobs, so we came upon the name Runaway because we were both escaping our past lives."
Unfortunately, this contrast between old career and new was also the source of Runaway's biggest challenge.
Without any previous brewing experience, the pair faced an incredibly steep learning curve before even being able to put any beer out to the public.
However, by absorbing crucial lessons from more experienced brewers and being careful not to overstretch themselves, they have largely managed to avoid any costly missteps.
"It has been a really big learning process," admits Mark. "Darren still lives down in Northamptonshire so he largely helps me with things like spreadsheets and accounts, while I do the brewing.
"We started out by doing a brew course at York Brewery with David Smith and I was also keen to gain experience by visiting other, well-established brewers in the area.
"I'm really precious about our output and constantly looking at ways I can refine our processes - as much as anything, it's a case of survival. When you're running a small business like this you have to be really careful not to let standards drop.
"People only see our beer on tap maybe once or twice a month, so if that experience isn't a good one then it's game over. The damage to your reputation would be huge, so it's really important to monitor yeast counts and keep tweaking recipes.
"I'm working very hard to ensure quality standards don't drop and so far we've been OK. But, as a result of this, one thing that has taken a back seat is the experimental side of brewing. I'm too focused on honing our quality to start thinking about what new styles we can create."
This is reflected in a no-frills core range, which could never be considered groundbreaking but, equally, never seems to disappoint.
Year-round regulars comprise a Pale Ale, an IPA, an American Brown and a Smoked Porter, supplemented by a handful of seasonal specials, including a Summer Saison, Märzen Lager, Rye IPA and soon a Double IPA.
The two pales from the core range, in particular, offer persuasive lessons in simplicity - clean, well-balanced and popping with flavours of citrus and tropical fruit, which are vivid but never crude or overpowering.
Aside from concerns over consistency, this approach also hints at an intertwining of tradition and modernity. Runaway's beer is clearly influenced by the recent American craft scene, while also attempting to capture the straightforward drinkability of the old school English session ale.
Mark says, "Flavour and consistency must be in balance. I just want my beer to be better, not necessarily more exciting. We're not doing stupidly exciting beers because we don't want to do styles where there could be a huge variance in quality. But I'm content with that because, although our beer is never going to change the world, I hope it's beer that people will go back to.
"We've had good feedback to suggest a lot of people who wouldn't usually drink ale drink our beer and that's what I see it as. It's gateway beer and I want to appeal to everyone, not just people who sit round sniffing schooners and describing how it made them feel.
"I also don't want to just dive in and do experiments because I don't have the experience. If I plan to do more experimental stuff, the best way to do it would be as a collaboration with someone else where I can learn from them.
"I love sours and gose, for example, but I don't just want to do them because other people are. I'll only do it if we actually have something to add to the categories."
One area where Runaway shows a clear bias towards a more modern approach is in choice of dispense.
Virtually the brewery's entire output is packaged in keg and bottle, with only the occasional special being produced for cask.
Although this is a practical decision rather than an ideological one, Mark is keen to change attitudes towards keg beer, particularly among long-time real ale drinkers.
A motion was passed at this year's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) annual general meeting, which called for a labelling scheme to identify 'key keg' beer that conforms with CAMRA criteria for real ale. This effectively paved the way for beer stored in key kegs - a one-way container that uses air pressure to dispense the beer without exposing it to extraneous CO2 - to be classified as real ale and Mark believes this is a huge step in the right direction.
"We had to make some very pragmatic decisions at the outset, like deciding not to brew cask ale," adds Mark. "Washing, cleaning, chasing round after casks and the investment needed to get enough casks at the start were things we decided we didn't need to do.
"So we were forced down the keg route. We only use key kegs, which was our compromise position because it allows us to condition in the vessel, but I believe it's as much real ale as real ale.
"I'm not down on CAMRA but I did find the general attitude of some of their members towards breweries producing something that's slightly colder and slightly fizzier difficult to understand.
"It wasn't so much that they didn't recognise it but that, at one point, they seemed to be actively against it, which is a bit much when you consider what I'm doing is virtually the same as what every microbrewery has done for the last 30 years.
"Ultimately, I want as many people as possible to enjoy our beer rather than appealing to just one specific audience - whether that's people who drink craft beer or people who drink real ale. It's all just beer in the end and hopefully we can continue to change a few people's minds."
MCR Brew Expo, May 23 to 24
In five years time, it's entirely feasible we'll look back on MCR Brew Expo as a seminal moment in Manchester's beer scene.
The event itself is significant enough, representing the city's first collaborative showcase of modern microbrew, organised entirely by those who make it.
Nine breweries in total will throw their doors open in a bid to reveal the richness of talent and diversity lurking within the city's railway arches and industrial units, away from the public glare.
But, beyond the confines of the weekend, MCR Brew Expo looks set to leave an enduring legacy - one that will ensure Manchester provides fertile ground for further brewing growth.
"Collaborative working is the key to all of this," says Paul Jones, co-founder of Cloudwater Brew Co, who have taken a leading role in organising the Expo.
"We all came together initially to organise an event but have ended up forging long-term relationships that go much further. On a basic level, that might mean sharing malt and hops but it also means exchanging advice, sharing lessons that have been learned or just providing one another with someone to talk to because we know how it feels.
"This isn't just about nine disparate businesses coming together to make a bit of money. It's about creating a unified scene and we've already come together to discuss how we might work together on distribution, marketing and a number of other issues.
"Prior to organising the Expo, some of the breweries involved felt as if they were a little bit isolated but now we have developed a sense of community and camaraderie. Hopefully that comes across during the Expo."
When Jones talks, it's hard not to be swept up in a wave of enthusiasm.
As a beer lover first and foremost, he appears genuinely excited about the opportunities that abound for all those involved, rather than retaining a narrow focus on Cloudwater's own success.
The Expo roster also features Manchester stalwarts Marble and is rounded off by a strong selection of the city's best young breweries, which includes Alphabet, Blackjack, First Chop, Privateer, Runaway, Squawk and Track.
It would be easy for them to view each other with suspicion, particularly given the increasingly fierce fight for bar space and the tight margins that exist at the lower end of the industry.
Instead, the primary challenge is seen as expanding the prevalence of Mancunian beer in bars and pubs across the country. And, in that sense, the main competition lies across the water.
Jones says, "It would be wrong of us to think of each other as 'the competition' because that's simply not the case. Because of the current pressure on the market, we're in competition with quality and it's up to us all to make sure we're producing a consistently good product.
"The breweries in Manchester all produce different products that appeal to different people. In the Piccadilly area, Privateer are focused on making a good pint, Track are making some great cask pales, Squawk are focused on good keg beer and Chorlton are set up for sours.
"If we start focusing on competition then we are not thinking about richness of consumer experience and that's when we begin to lose ground.
"We are trying to compete against US imports to show people they can get beer from their own city that is just as good but much fresher because it hasn't had to travel.
"If we make gains to improve the production of beer in Manchester that's great for us. We want to make people proud of what their city produces and give them an incentive to invest in local breweries."
The hand of friendship has even been extended across the generation gap. One of the city's oldest family brewers, Joseph Holt, participated in a special collaborative brew especially for the Expo, creating the Green Quarter IPA in alliance with Marble, Blackjack and Runaway.
It is a rare occurrence of Manchester's distinct ale scenes finding common purpose and a fitting example of the barriers that have been broken down in the process of planning this inaugural event.
Given the sizeable strides made in a small space of time, Jones' thoughts have already turned to the possibilities for extending the festivities further in the years to come.
He says, "We all have an appetite to see how far we can take this and I'm pretty confident this won't be the only Expo event this year.
"Beer festivals tend to be run by bar owners, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because we love the bar owners who sell good beer and work to promote it.
"But this is different because it's run by the brewers themselves so it gives a fresh perspective and provides the public with a feel for the thinking behind the beer they drink.
"We all enjoy the Bermondsey Beer Mile but feel it perhaps doesn't go far enough in providing people with the full brewery experience. The Expo is an open brewery event, which is exactly what we wanted it to be. Being inside a brewery is a sensory experience and we want people to enjoy that and take it all in.
"Most of us are underground, working under railway arches, so we often go unnoticed but when people see what we do, I believe the enthusiasm is catching.
"We want to generate a buzz round this so people see Manchester as a destination for good beer."
For more information or to buy tickets, visit the MCR Brew Expo website.
What is the consequence when two worlds collide?
A 5.5% IPA made with a blend of English and American hops, apparently.
At least, that was the outcome when three distinct generations of Manchester brewers came together earlier this week.
It's rare that a traditional family brewer should cross paths with one of the modern movement's young upstarts - and even rarer they should brew together - which makes this experiment all the more intriguing.
Joseph Holt represented Manchester's old guard at the special brewday, Marble flew the flag for the first generation of modern 'craft' breweries, while Blackjack and Runaway signified the new wave of bold micros.
All four breweries are based in Manchester's Green Quarter - an area to the north of the city centre and south of Cheetham Hill - and the idea for collaboration emerged as a result of the upcoming MCR Brew Expo.
One commemorative brew had already been created for the event by the nine organising new school brewers but, in the spirit of true collaboration, the three from the Green Quarter believed it only right they extend the hand of friendship to their vaunted neighbours.
Mark Welsby, head brewer at Runaway said: "We had been talking about a Green Quarter brew for a while but it dawned on me that, if we were going to do a collaboration, why wouldn't we invite Holt's?
"They're established and have the tradition around here so it would seem wrong to leave them out. We thought it would be a nice way to introduce ourselves, as much as anything else.
"Although MCR Brew Expo is about celebrating the growth of the scene in this city, we thought it was important to celebrate Manchester's heritage too."
Although the idea seemed slightly pie in the sky at first, it very quickly gathered momentum.
"We had already done an Expo beer but none of the big brewers got invited to that, which I thought was a shame," said Matt Howgate, head brewer for Marble, who hosted the brew.
"I knew Phil (Parkinson, head brewer at Joseph Holt) because I'd met him at a couple of IBD dinners and we've also visited Holt's before and they were very welcoming with us.
"So I thought this was the perfect time to do a beer with them, especially because the MCR Brew Expo is being split by geography - the Piccadilly brewers and then us in the Green Quarter.
"I wasn't confident Phil would do it but when I approached him, he was really keen. It doesn't matter whether you're a big brewer or a small brewer, it's the type of industry where most people are happy to share secrets."
The resulting beer, named Green Quarter, will be available in cask and keg and the recipe was developed with a nod to Manchester's brewing history.
Its hopping schedule mirrors the timeline for when each of the collaborating brewers was established. Joseph Holt chose the bittering hop, traditional English variety Goldings, while Marble and Blackjack selected Amarillo and Summit respectively to go in at the back end of the boil.
Runaway will then add Mosaic to the fermenter, in greater volume than the dry hop for each of Marble's existing hop-forward beers, Dobber, Earl Grey and Lagonda.
For Phil Parkinson of Holt's, it represents a significant departure from the usual routine but one he would be happy to repeat.
He said: "I've been at Holt's for seven months so it's definitely the first collaboration of this kind we've done in that time.
"It's great to be invited. Everyone's got an opinion on it on what craft beer is but, to us, it's craft beer as long as care has gone into it and we would consider that we fall under that.
"There's a lot of people that would disagree but it's nice to be invited to be a part of this, so we can say 'we're all craft'.
"There is room for both, particularly because we both serve different markets. Hopefully this won't be the last time we do something like this."
Green Quarter will debut at next weekend's MCR Brew Expo, which runs on Saturday, May 23 and Sunday, May 24 at venues across the city. Visit the MCR Brew Expo website for more information.
In Manchester, we like to do things at our own pace.
A new brewery has opened every three minutes for the past five years in London (*this figure may be statistically inaccurate) but only now has Manchester decided to hop on the bandwagon.
Maybe we didn't want to seem too keen - after all, it would have been proper sad to rush straight in after those Cockney hipsters - maybe we wanted to arrive fashionably late, or maybe we just couldn't be arsed, in true Mancunian fashion.
No matter the whats and wherefores, a string of new breweries have either opened or announced their intention to open over the past year.
Possibly the best of the bunch is Runaway.
There's nothing especially unique or innovative about the beers this city centre brewery is churning out but there is a strong sense of reliability running throughout their range.
And this kind of consistency goes a long way in a market that has become characterised by wild inconsistency and untamed experimentation.
It's not that there's anything at all wrong with craft brewers raising a middle finger to convention, it's just that sometimes I want to know exactly what I'm getting.
That doesn't mean Runaway's beers are bland or middle of the road, just that each one seems to be an accomplished interpretation of the intended style.
Runaway IPA, 5.5%
The IPA, in particular, has the potential to be Manchester's Gamma Ray - that faithful fridge-filler which never fails to offer easy refreshment without making any compromises on taste.
It bursts with aroma and taste, zinging the senses with a killer combination of citrus, sweet tropical fruit and floral perfume.
As you dip your nose into the glass for the first time, you're dragged in deeper by welcoming smells of soft, ripe peach and passion fruit before experiencing a slightly surprising tickle of floral blossom. Grapefruit and orange zest round off the nose, hinting at the supreme refreshment to follow.
And that refreshment hits like a wake-up call from a bucket of water to the face.
It starts with the pop of pink grapefruit and lime, so vivid you'd swear you were bursting ripe, juicy segments between the teeth one-by-one. There follows a burst of effervescent sweetness, reminiscent of the moment you've sucked your way to the centre of a lemon sherbet, before it fades to leave the fragrant tropical flavour of lychee, alongside pine and floral hops.
It finishes with the metallic twang of watermelon Jolly Ranchers and a dry finish characterised by a light, pithy bitterness and the zing of orange and grapefruit peel. All of that is underpinned by a grainy, airy cereal base that makes this less hefty than a lot of IPAs and perhaps more easily enjoyable as a result.
Runaway Pale Ale 4.7%
The pale isn't quite as distinctive as the IPA but is tasty enough, yet unchallenging enough, to be guzzled by the bucket-load without having to decipher every single taste that hits the palate. On which note, I can supply the bucket if Runaway are happy to provide the beer.
In the nose, flashes of tinned pineapple and mango are soon overtaken by a rush of fresh pink grapefruit and yellow grapefruit rind.
The first mouthful provides a rush of grapefruit juice that leaves you licking the insides of your mouth like a dog that's gorged itself on sticky malt loaf.
Light caramel provides the glue that holds everything together as tart citrus makes way for pine and a firm zesty bitterness, combining tangerine and grapefruit peel. The finish is so clean and crisp it leaves you dreaming of summer days that will never come amid the persistent rain of beautiful Mancunia.
Runaway American Brown Ale, 5.7%
The American Brown Ale retains the easy drinkability of Runaway's two pales and offers a welcome take on a style.
As you'd expect, there's a good malt presence but not one that runs roughshod over all the other flavours, allowing the beer to stay fairly fresh and airy.
Sherbet orange and zest are prominent on the nose, jumping above a general waft of brown toast, pine and the odd twang of roast cacao nibs.
Juicy orange and grapefruit lend tartness to the taste without any of the usual accompanying bitterness, playing alongside more earthy flavours and firm, nutty malt.
Although it starts reasonably dry, it becomes even drier in the lead up to the finish, brown toast, bitter chocolate and light charcoal only accentuating that arid, ashy mouthfeel.
Grapefruit and pine rear their heads again in the finish to leave a pleasant mix of contrasting flavours to linger in the aftertaste.
There's definitely something to be said for steady reliability and Runaway are making that case well.
1. 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.
3. 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.
6. 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.
10. 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.
Preview: 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.
After 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."
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.
Matt Howgate, head brewer at Marble Brewery, features in the latest edition of the Alechemist, Beer Battered's regular series focused on the people behind the beer.
Marble epitomises Manchester.
From its inception, the brewery has done a stunning job of capturing the city's unique ethos in the form of its favourite drink - the honest pint.
Forget the 'mad fer it' slogans or swaggering affectations. Marble's beers pay respect to time-honoured Mancunian tradition by intertwining fierce civic pride with a creative verve that consistently challenges accepted knowledge.
From humble beginnings beneath the 125-year-old Marble Arch pub, the brewery became universally revered, a shining symbol for the progressive element of the city's brewing scene.
In that context, it seems a little strange that the future of this Manchester institution has been entrusted to a Yorkshireman.
But newly-appointed head brewer Matt Howgate comes with his own proud history. Born and raised in Tadcaster - a small Yorkshire town with as many breweries as primary schools - it was inevitable brewing would be in the blood, particularly as his dad was a drayman for Samuel Smith and his mum worked for Bass.
And while Matt is keen to make his own mark on Marble, he also remains respectful of the approach that was crucial to earlier success.
"When this opportunity came up, it was one I had to go for," he says. "Given the brewery's reputation and history, it's an exciting chance to get involved in something really successful.
"Despite the reputation, it didn't really feel daunting, more just exciting. The previous brewer, James Campbell, created some fantastic recipes for beers that are well loved, so there is a lot to work with.
"I have my own ideas and I'd be foolish not to make my own mark. It would also be fairly boring if I didn't come here and look at what I might be able to add to the beer and processes.
"At first, we just wanted to get the efficiency right, make some changes to processes and then we've got ideas on what we want to do. It was just a case of getting everything settled first."
Matt took charge at Marble in March after spending the previous two years as production manager at AB InBev's Samlesbury brewery and started out working at Molson Coors in his hometown.
A three-year spell at Leeds Brewery was sandwiched in between and, although it's perhaps not the typical path of the modern 'craft' brewer, Matt believes the experience stands him in good stead.
The commitment to quality control learned at much larger operations has proved particularly useful in finding ways to improve an already-impressive range of beers.
Marble has undergone a tough transition period more recently, having lost such talent as Dominic Driscoll (now at Thornbridge), Colin Stronge (now at Buxton) and James Campbell but there is a sense of clear vision regarding what must change in order to regain forward momentum.
He says, "I spent two years with InBev and it was really hard work. It wasn't what I knew as brewing but I learned a lot from the experience.
"I'd spent the previous three years with Leeds Brewery so I was really looking forward to getting closer to the actual brewing again and really getting involved.
"The beers being produced at AB InBev weren't necessarily the kind of beers I love but the attention to detail was pretty impressive.
"That's what I learned from it. That commitment to ensuring consistency in the flavour of the beer was incredible and we are trying to implement some of the same practices here on a smaller scale.
"Marble has always been renowned for producing interesting hop-forward beers but other breweries have maybe caught up with us now in that respect. So we're aiming to make the beers cleaner than they have ever been before, so we can let that hop character shine through.
"One of the things they were really good at, even before I started here, is the amount that's recorded. We've got a really tight control on everything and we're going way over and above in that sense.
"But another thing we've really picked up on since I started is the yeast. Previously we were pitching at 25C and fermenting at up to 28C and it was resulting in really high esters, which can sometimes add to the beer but we wanted to tone it down.
"We've started pitching at 18C and fermenting at 20C because we want all these hop flavours to shine through and we're not going to get that with a warm fermentation."
A quick turnaround helps too. The typical brewing process takes around eight days, meaning the beers will reach drinkers as fresh as possible, ensuring the hop character remains bright and vivid.
This can be a challenge on a 12 BBL kit, with the brewery staff working flat-out to ensure they service demand for favourites such as Manchester Bitter, Pint and Dobber.
But recent changes are starting to bear fruit and seem particularly evident in the Lagonda IPA. Samples of this classic American-style pale have practically erupted with flavours of grapefruit, orange zest and dried apricot, springing energetically from the light malt base and aided by a crisp, dry finish.
"The beers are as clean as I've tasted them and we're pleased with them," says Matt. "In terms of my favourite, it depends what sort of mood I'm in but I do like Manchester Bitter.
"We're trying to make it as sessionable as possible so we've toned it back a bit now. It had become a bit confused so we've tried to make it as clean as possible and added that dry bitterness so it's a standard session beer with that extra something to it.
"We're very proud of the Dobber at the moment and we've made progress with the Ginger. It got hammered in some reviews for not being gingery enough so we're continually upping the ginger levels."
The hop bills for each beer have also come under close scrutiny.
Although the traditional approach is to start at the beginning of the boil and add hops in chronological order to achieve a desired level of bitterness, Marble have flipped the process on its head.
All hops are now added at flame-out (when the heat is turned off on the brew kettle) and left to stand in the hot wort rather than being transferred immediately to a fermenting vessel. Any extra bitterness needed is provided by a small addition at the start of the boil.
"For bittering we use a small charge of a bittering hop and a hop stand," explains Matt. "The last hops aren't boiled, we just put them in and let them stand in the wort after flame out, so our only additions are at the start and the end.
"We work backwards for our bittering, so we calculate what we want from our aroma hops, say a 50/50 blend of Cascade and Galaxy at a particular number of grams per litre. "We work out how many IBUs that will give us and then adjust the bittering hop accordingly. For bittering, we have started using hops like Hercules, which will impart a nice, clean bitterness, letting the aroma hops do their job in terms of flavour."
There is plenty more to come too.
Matt has overseen the production of four new beers in his short time at the brewery, most notably the English IPA - a robust yet drinkable IPA hopped with an English quartet of Target, Goldings, Admiral and Cascade - but is quietly planning many more.
A couple of collaborations with former Buxton and Thornbridge brewer James Kemp are also in the works, one a New Zealand pale ale, the other involving imperial stout, barrels and wild yeast.
Meanwhile, the brewery is undergoing a redesign, with new bottles (pictured above left) due soon that give a nod to Manchester's industrial heritage and to the blunt, no-frills candour of its inhabitants.
The only thing they have to worry about is servicing rising demand for their beers.
"We could do with a bigger brewery I suppose," laughs Matt. "But every brewer would say that."
The Font, Manchester
0161 236 0944
Font is a Manchester mainstay - a constant in a bar scene that has continually morphed and evolved around it over the past 15 years.
It's become part of the furniture without pandering to trends or letting itself become defined by a particular crowd or style.
Personally, I've frequented Font since my days as a degenerate student, when a good pint was the one glass of Kronenbourg that didn't have a fag dimp in it.
Back then, the appeal was the games console in the corner that allowed me to continue my Pro Evo marathon even after I'd been forced to leave the house.
Luckily, I've matured since then and so has Font, even if deep down neither of us have changed all that much.
In the case of Font, the games console is gone and the beer selection has expanded to include four ever-changing cask lines and four guest keg lines, alongside their regulars and a superb bottle selection from around the world.
On top of that, there's a huge range of cocktails that don't require you to take out a second mortgage and the food is straightforward but satisfying and very reasonably priced. The burgers, in particular, are good for filling a hole at the start of a night out and will set you back just £7, which includes a portion of fries.
But the most appealing thing about Font is its lack of pretension.
It's not quite a dive bar but it's rough and ready, sparse yet welcoming, consequently attracting a varied array of punters.
It's a place where you'd be equally happy whiling away the afternoon hours with a paper and a pint of session cask as you would sampling a few bottles of 10% ABV barleywine at the height of a big night out.
It's also become a crucial point on any Mancunian 'craft crawl', providing a handy link between the ever increasing wonders of the Northern Quarter and the student haunts of Oxford Road or the old-school beer destinations of Knott Bar and Cask.
Not that it isn't a destination in its own right. This is usually the best place in town to find Moor's outstanding beers on draught and a good bet for bottles of Partizan, Kernel and Weird Beard.
Hopefully it'll still be somewhere to rely on another 15 years from now.
On February 22, 2014 I achieved my life's ambition.
It's taken 31 years to get here but never again will anyone be able to call me incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery.
The CAMRGB Manchester Twissup saw more than 50 people from all over the country share a pint (or ten) in two breweries and three bars on a riotous, rowdy ride through the city's beer scene.
And, in all honesty, it wasn't that difficult.
When I first floated the idea of a Twissup late last year, a host of bacchanalian superheroes swooped to my aid.
Rob Hamilton and the team at Blackjack risked potential catastrophe by offering to throw open the doors of their brewery to a bunch of rabble-rousers, while the Marble Arch offered never-before-seen bottles of very special beer (more of which later).
The ever-accommodating Port Street crew teamed up with Quantum Brewing's Jay Krause to offer a first taste of the spectacularly-bearded brewer's new doppelbock, while both Font and First Chop expressed willingness, no questions asked.
So, although I'm still going to add 'piss-up in a brewery' to the major achievements on my CV, most of the credit should actually be spread elsewhere.
The incredible turnout, which included beer folk from as far afield as Dorset, also provided vindication for Simon Williams' vision of CAMRGB as an organisation run entirely by its members.
From the minute I proposed the idea of a Manchester event to him, Simon was happy for me to grasp the CAMRGB banner and run with it. And it will have been even more pleasing for him that another member-organised gathering was taking place simultaneously around London's Craft Beer Rising festival.
Beer is one of life's great unifiers - truly deserving its reputation as social lubricant - and the overwhelming support for such events bodes well for the potential of CAMRGB and the future of British beer.
Never before have I spoken to so many people in such a short space of time with such a genuine passion for promoting good beer - whether that's through convincing friends and family, sharing their thoughts in the blogosphere or making and selling the stuff.
There were far too many great folk for me to mention them all but it was heart-warming to find the presence of people like Becky and John from Art Brew, who travelled hundreds of miles to take part even at the end of an extremely tough week.
These are the kind of people who can help to drive demand for good beer and improve standards by educating the wider population and making pubs and retailers take notice of the wide variety of microbrewed beer now available.
So, to the event itself. In hindsight, 12 noon might have been an ambitious starting time but with so many potential venues and so little time, midday drinking became almost necessary - at least that's what I told myself.
Regardless, the Marble Arch is a fantastic start point for any meander through Manchester and a poignant reminder of a proud heritage.
The striking mosaic floor provides a bed of Lancastrian roses and the glistening, glazed tiles that adorn the walls epitomise much of the city's Victorian architecture.
Put simply, this pub IS Manchester.
To reinforce that point, hometown heroes Marble call this place home, so it was only right I started out with a half from the house and the hoppy, refreshing Brew 701 hit the spot.
At this point, the pub was unfortunately packed with City fans (they're an odd breed), so it was difficult to pick out my fellow Twissupers, especially as I didn't have the slightest clue what many of them looked like.
Luckily, my mate Jonny and myself spotted fellow Manchester homebrewer Steve Dunkley before bloggers Mark (Views From the Bar), Jim (BeersManchester) and Cameron (All You Need is Beer) made themselves known, Jim even bearing the gift of an Ilkley Speyside Siberia (very much appreciated, my friend).
James from Axiom Brewing also led a small party on an adjoining table but our group remained fragmented until the Arch staff brought out what basically amounted to beer geek's cat nip.
Four bottles of imperial stout were brought to our table - a barrel-aged version of last year's anniversary stout, brewed to mark the Arch's 125th birthday - and suddenly our fellow drinkers began swarming like flies round the proverbial.
The Macc homebrew boys made themselves known and our Chester contingent were not too far behind.
The stout itself was a delight. Sweet, rich and sticky, full of coffee and dark fruits with a warming, boozy finish, it left mouths agape in wonder and desperate hands grasping for more. At 10.8%, it was also akin to pouring petrol on a bonfire that didn't need any assistance in catching light.
After this, we took a short stumble down Gould Street towards Blackjack brewery. On first glance, this looked like an unassuming industrial unit beneath a railway arch but closer examination revealed it was, in fact, some kind of boozy wonderland.
The infamous Mr Hamilton had hinted at what delights may be on offer via a Twitter teaser pic the previous evening but what greeted us went far beyond anything we could have expected.
His very own Doppelkopf made its debut on the solitary keg font - a soft, smoky pleasure - and there were three cask handpulls featuring two more Blackjack efforts, including an excellent stout, and Burning Sky's superb Saison L'Hiver.
As if that wasn't enough, a couple more firkins were perched at the end of the bar offering Blackjack's Four of a Kind and the beautifully bold Arbor and Alechemy collab Anti-Christmas.
All of these were offered at knockdown prices and, to add to my giddiness, we were even allowed to pour them ourselves - a novelty that never wore off even after my first effort was 85% head.
One reveller enquired whether Rob would have any problem with us moving into the brewery on a permanent basis but, alas, Port Street called where we had a date with Mr Krause and his doppelbock.
I'm not sure the staff knew quite what had hit them when a swarming mass descended on the bar to shout in unison for Quantum's Interocitor, the aforementioned doppelbock, which slipped down a treat - a fruity, easy-drinking drop.
Lively conversation between brewers and beer geeks ensued and I also indulged in a delicious half of Mad Hatter's Hare of Darkness before making the move to Font, where things started to become more than a little hazy...
I remember drinking a pint - yes, that's a PINT - of Rodenbach after getting a little overexcited at seeing it on draught.
But one of the best moments of the day came when Simon bought a bottle of Arbor's Down Deeperest, which he had designed the label for, and shared it among our party. Given it stands at 12% ABV, it was probably the last thing I needed at the time but how can you resist such a delicious, unique black barleywine, rich in huge, sweet malts and pungent, earthy hops?
The answer, in case you were in any doubt, is you can't! It's one of those beers that coats the mouth with a delightful, syrupy residue, soothing you into a state of supreme serenity.
Last stop for the day was the First Chop Brewery, at the end of a troublesome trek from the city centre to Trinity Way in Salford that involved more than a few false turns.
We felt like Scott and his team of intrepid explorers when we finally arrived at the huge railway arch, equal parts brewery, New York craft beer bar and dark, underground club.
The big cheese himself, head brewer Rik Garner, was getting busy on the wheels of steel, spinning an impressive mix of soul classics that even had Messrs Hamilton and BeersManchester strutting their stuff on the dancefloor.
If you haven't yet ventured down there, I'd heartily recommend going to one of the regular brewery socials, which usually take place on the last Saturday of each month.
Once all the drinking and dancing had become too much for me, I stuffed my face with tasty wood-fired pizza from Honest Crust on the courtyard outside and jumped in a taxi home to regale my long-suffering partner with thrilling tales of libation and lunacy.
I wasn't at my eloquent best when I described the events of the day but one thing she instantly detected was my sheer, unbridled excitement. Never before have I had the chance to drink, natter and act the fool with such a wonderfully warm, varied and interesting group of folk.
Who's for Twissup Redux later this year?
For some different views on the Twissup, read the following excellent blogs:
Or check out Steve Dunkley's photos here
CAMRGB Manchester Twissup
Next month it's Manchester's time to shine when I attempt to help organise a piss-up (at least partly) in a brewery.
On February 22 this great city will play host to the next event from CAMRGB, in the shape of a stagger round some of the beery wonders this city has to offer.
The following is a 'provisional' plan and although I'm well aware these things are often subject to change after the first few drinks have slipped down, hopefully this should provide plenty to get excited about.
12 noon Marble Arch
An early start and a chance for everyone to meet in one of Manchester's finest pubs. Marble have agreed to keep a couple of special beers aside for us and there will also be the chance for food should anyone wish to line the stomach.
Blackjack have kindly agreed to throw open the doors of the brewery and put on some beers especially. So if you'd like to have a poke around some copper while knocking back a beer, this is one for you.
4pm Port Street Beer House
A tour around Manchester wouldn't be complete without a stop at Port Street and the guys there have agreed to clear some space for us. This stop should also include a new beer from Quantum Brewing, which brewer Jay Krause has kindly agreed to supply.
As we make our way across the city we'll stop off at Font. It's a chance to drink more beer and grab some food, as I'm sure there'll be a few growling stomachs by this point.
8.30pm First Chop
The Twissup coincides with First Chop's second brewery social, so the final stop will offer a chance to meet brewer Rik Garner, sample some fine First Chop beers and enjoy a bit of music.
Get the date in the diary now. If you can, let me know either in the comments here or via Twitter if you'll be attending so I can give each stop notice of how many people to expect. That way they can make sure there's beer and food for everyone!
Hopefully see plenty of you there.
No 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.
It'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.
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.
It'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.
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.
Manchester, 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.
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!"
Beer Battered introduces The Alechemist, a regular series of features focused on the people behind the beer. First up is Quantum Brewing owner and brewer Jay Krause.
The route from home to commercial brewing is a path well trodden.
Recent history is littered with examples of top-ranked amateurs who have successfully turned pro, from Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head to the Kernel and Weird Beard.
The industry is fairly unique in that sense - after all, you wouldn't pursue a career in medicine by practising on friends and family using tips gleaned from well-thumbed textbooks - but it does seem logical to apply the skills honed through years of painstaking practice on a larger scale.
This is particularly true given many home-brewed beers are better than the vast majority of their commercial counterparts. After all, wouldn't you rather drink a small-batch stout made with care and attention than a bland pint of Guinness?
In Jay Krause's case the answer was 'yes', so he went DIY in a bid to satisfy his beer habit. Initially, he was more than happy merely serving his own needs but a string of successful creations meant the demand from friends, family and fellow beer lovers only continued to grow. Eventually, this feedback convinced Jay to quit his day job at a nursery and turn his hobby into a full-time pursuit.
The result was Quantum Brewing.
"The motivation to begin with was money," says Jay. "I didn't have any money so I needed a good source of decent beer. Beyond that it was getting some nice words off people with the homebrew. It was good to hear people were enjoying it and that I was making something they wanted to drink.
"I had flirted with the idea of setting up a brewery for a while before seriously thinking about doing it. I was working in a nursery at the time so when I got the opportunity I just decided to go for it.
"Thankfully I started out just before the massive microbrewing boom so it was quite lucky in that sense. I couldn't have asked for better timing really."
That timing was the result of chance as much as anything else. The former Shaw's Brewery was placed on the market and, spotting his chance, Jay purchased it, moving the operation from Dukinfield to a modest industrial unit in Stockport in April 2011.
It is the very definition of a microbrewery - a neat five-barrel plant in a small lock-up, hidden among MOT centres, workshops and a flooring superstore on a compact industrial estate. You wouldn't even know there was a brewery there if it wasn't for the alluring smell and the sacks of malt sat outside.
But from these humble surroundings have emerged a series of consistently excellent beers, making Quantum one of the most talked-about young breweries in Greater Manchester and a respected member of the wider beer community. Collaborations with Marble, Brodie's and current Buxton head brewer Colin Stronge provide an indication of the regard in which Jay is held by his peers.
All this despite being a one-man band in the truest sense of the term. He is head brewer, accountant, sales rep, delivery man and cleaner, solely responsible for every success and failure experienced by the fledgling business.
"I'm doing about 10 barrels a week at the moment and that's on the cusp of being completely chaotic," laughs Jay. "It's all about juggling time because I have about 15 things on the go at once. You'd think it'd have a positive effect on my fitness because there's a lot of heavy work but there's also a lot of free beer so it cancels it out!
"At the moment, I've not got a big problem selling whatever I produce but if I upped the volume significantly, I might find it difficult, especially on my own.
"I still think the demand for good, microbrewed beer is on the way up and there's still a lot of room for a lot more little brewers, brewpubs and things like that. There just needs to be more places doing good beer and relaxing the beer tie. Pubcos are the difficulty we face. People want to have different beers on but they can't because they're not allowed to."
The difficulty generating demand in a market still dominated by the pubcos has resulted in an admirable spirit of cooperation among breweries who might otherwise have viewed each other as the competition.
With microbrewed beer still accounting for a tiny proportion of overall sales, communal efforts have been focused on attempting to snatch bar space from the bigger breweries. It is a situation which has proved vital in helping small start-ups like Quantum to thrive.
Jay says, "Often, I take inspiration for my beers from other brewers. In that sense we all help each other out. We don't look at each other as the competition so if someone comes to me to ask me how I bottle or what recipe I used for a particular beer, I'll tell them because it's no secret.
"There's not really any competition because, as a whole, we've got such a small share of the market. The only competition is from pubcos so we'll all work together to push it forward. If someone needs hops or malt, someone else will help them out. Everyone just loves beer so they're all pretty obliging."
Ironically though, Jay's own taste and drinking habits were moulded, at least initially, in a tied pub.
Manchester's proliferation of large, family-run breweries means many a young Mancunian has spent their formative years supping a musty pint of cask bitter in a community boozer. Growing up in Urmston, a small suburb south west of the city centre, Jay inevitably ended up doing exactly that.
But in his case - as with so many others - that pint acted as a gateway drink, weaning him off cheap lager and ultimately leading towards a wider world of wonders.
He says, "I've always drunk real ale - whatever that is - because I grew up in Urmston and we had a Holt's pub at the end of the road. So because of that, I've always drunk mild and bitter.
"I went through a bleak few years when I just drank lager, when I wasn't bothered about what I was having, but then I moved to London in 2006 and we had the Bree Louise in Euston. I used to drink in there and they had loads of different beers on, so it was like 'oh OK'.
"When I moved back up, the Magnet in Stockport opened and I started homebrewing fairly soon after that. Then it snowballed. There's plenty of good beer in Stockport so we're spoilt and I've become intolerant of poor quality. In fact, it's not even poor quality, it's just stuff I don't like!
"What I drink depends on the mood and depends on the day. It's never just as simple as drinking pale ales in the summer because I sometimes love to have a good stout in summer. I'll drink all sorts, pretty much anything, although I don't really like Belgian witbiers."
This ever-changing taste heavily informs Jay's approach to brewing.
Quantum doesn't have a core range and although there are certain beers which are produced semi-regularly - the Pale and American Amber being a couple of the more prominent examples - no two batches will ever be the same as the recipes and ingredients are constantly being tweaked. There is a heavy emphasis on sourcing the highest-quality ingredients, so the hops used in a particular beer may change depending on the relative success or failure of the most recent harvest.
"Then it'll go from there to a point where I ask myself 'would I want to drink that?' If the answer's no then I'm just not going to make it.
"I've not really got a core range as such but there's a few beers I'll do time and time again. But they always change anyway so you'll never get the same beer twice.
"Especially at this level, there's a lot of market for constantly changing beers. I don't really want to drink the same thing eight or nine times so my beers reflect that.
"I do the single hop IPA series purely because it lets me figure out what the hop does in all parts of the process. It helps the consumer to understand the flavours as well. If you have a single hop beer, you get a better understanding of what the hop's like and what it contributes."
With Quantum selling everything it produces, expansion appears to be next on the agenda.
Currently, Jay's beers are only readily available in the Manchester area and, until very recently, would only be frequently found on cask in a select handful of venues.
But there are positive signs that may change, as bottles and, to a lesser extent, kegs have been popping up with increased regularity. Recent highlights have included the Barleywine USA, CCC IPA and Small Beer, so if you can get your grubby little mits on any of those I would highly recommend it.
"I'm not planning too far ahead but I would just like to expand and get more fermenters," adds Jay. "I'm hoping to open a tap in the brewery at some point as well but it's part of a long list that doesn't ever seem to go down!
"In terms of the beers, I want to do more sour beers and barrel-aged beers. I've got a starter going for a sour at the moment, which is six months in, so we'll see what it's like. It may be disgusting!"
That seems unlikely, considering the unerring quality of Quantum's output.
Port Street Beer House, Manchester
0161 237 9949
(Photos by Sebastian Matthes)
Here's a message for any self-respecting Mancunian beer geek who hasn't yet visited Port Street Beer House: you better check yo' self before you wreck yo' self, foo!
Or, at least, that's what I imagine Ice Cube would say if he suddenly developed a penchant for good beer and relocated to the north west of England.
In other words, what on earth do you think you're playing at?
Port Street Beer House has long been the Manchester beer lover's Mecca, offering the best of both worlds for anybody professing to enjoy a hops and barley-based beverage.
If cask is your obsession, there are seven constantly changing handpulls to tickle your fancy. And if you're a bit more relaxed in your method of serve then more power to you - 18 keg lines and more than a hundred bottles from every corner of the globe are your reward. Never mind whether you're from Manchester or Mandalay, it's well worth the pilgrimage.
But, beyond the obvious appeal for beer geeks, Port Street has become a popular destination because it successfully blurs the line between pub and bar, combining the casual bonhomie of the traditional boozer with a bright, energetic atmosphere.
It's the kind of place where the misanthrope can scurry into some secluded corner and hide behind the day's paper with just a pint for company. Equally, it provides the more socially-willing with suitable surroundings for a friendly gathering if they find it necessary to detract from the serious business of imbibing.
The upstairs saloon and outdoor seating area relieve the pressure on the main bar, ensuring there's usually somewhere to pull up a pew. So, even when the place throngs with enthusiastic patrons, atmosphere never comes at the expense of conversation, unlike so many other bars where attempts at human interaction are drowned out by thudding bass from a sub-standard sound system.
Consequently, it's that rare thing, a venue focused almost entirely on the quality and variety of its beer where my long-suffering girlfriend also feels comfortable. The wine list is small but of sufficient quality to stifle any potential frustrations and even if she did feel inclined to explore the beer menu, the knowledgeable bar staff would be well-placed to make an appropriate recommendation.
It's a constant bugbear that so many self-appointed 'craft beer bars' provide the selection yet fail to support it with the requisite expertise. I've twice ordered at another Manchester bar, which shall remain nameless, only to be asked 'what's that?' It defeats the point of having bar staff when you virtually have to grab the bottle from the fridge yourself.
At the centre of it all is a pure, unadulterated love and respect for the art of brewing - something that had rarely been seen in Manchester before it opened its doors in 2010.
Sure, pubs like the Marble Arch and Knott Bar are equally fundamental pillars of the Manchester beer scene, but none have attempted to change the attitudes of the city's drinkers in quite the same way.
Conversations I've had with non-beer obsessives seem to suggest they Port Street has succeeded in chipping away at some of the more entrenched habits by encouraging experimentation through exposure to different beers.
You can only hope they've blazed a trail for many more to follow.
Quantum CCC IPA
Bottle, 8.1% ABV
Where have we leapt to this time? And what is this bold new era?
OK, so I'm not quite Dr Sam Beckett but it does appear that we have entered an exciting age where bottles of Quantum's beers freely roam the earth, finding their way into more outlets than ever before. Forget the leap home, I'm quite happy to stay here for the foreseeable.
Readers from God's country - Manchester to the uninitiated - may already be familiar with the beers produced by this excellent microbrewery but hopefully we are entering a time when the rest of you can share in the enjoyment.
Brewer Jay Krause operates as a one-man band out of an unassuming industrial unit in Stockport, meaning regular availability of his beers has been limited to a handful of venues in the Greater Manchester area. But all signs point to wider reach in the near future and, believe me, that can only be a good thing.
The CCC IPA is one of my recent favourites produced by Quantum, although the Barleywine USA is also an absolute belter (review to follow very soon).
It pours a cloudy, burnt orange with a lively, thick white head that retreats rapidly back towards the liquid yet leaves a thin lacing clinging tentatively to the sides of the glass.
Typically for 'C' hops (Citra, Centennial and Columbus in case you were wondering), the aromas are pungent, led racing out of the glass by eager grapefruit. Pine and musty tropical notes follow closely behind but inhale really deeply and you can almost sense the heavy haze of a Grateful Dead gig, if you catch my drift.
The carbonation is firm and lasting but the mouthfeel is smooth as silk, sliding away far too easily for an 8.1% ABV beast. Beers this drinkable play a nasty game of rope-a-dope and before you know it, you're lay sparko on the canvas.
Accompanying this drinkability, there is still plenty of punch to delight the hopheads. Unsurprisingly there's more grapefruit, joined by sherbet lemon, a pinch of pineapple and sticky, orangey boiled sweets. But the more you drink, the more the resinous, spicy hop flavours come to the fore, particularly pine and sage.
It finishes with a lasting bitterness that latches on to the back of the tongue, refusing to let go until you take another gulp - and why wouldn't you when it tastes this good.
If you're interested to find out more about Quantum, keep 'em peeled for the first in my series of regular brewer features, featuring the man himself, Mr Jay Krause.
Meanwhile, for any Quantum Leap fans out there, I'll leave you with this: