These days barely an issue of Ales & Tales goes by where we’re not at one beer festival or another. This piece bares no exception, though it’s worth mentioning that this particular festival is not organised by CAMRA – that’s no reason not to fully support might I add. It’s a pleasure to take the opportunity to scribble my thoughts and experience on this independent beer festival and a welcome break from all things CAMRA. So, said beer festival…none other than ‘Indy Man Beer Con’ – now in its sixth year, yet to my own surprise only my second time attending the fantastic Mancunian craft gathering that IMBC put together each autumn.
A brief overview for those who might be unfamiliar with IMBC or worse still have instead chosen to watch England, Lithuania and one measly goal. IMBC showcases an extravaganza of the most progressive and forward-thinking breweries from across the UK, Europe & The States featuring the likes of Buxton Brewery , Lervig (Stavanger, Norway) and Other Half Brewing (Brooklyn, NY), pouring them under one roof over the course of one weekend in October. Jonny Heyes festival founder recalls “IMBC was one of the first festivals to focus on modern British ‘craft’ breweries rather than cask ale breweries. Before Indy Man came along most if not all of the big beer festivals were CAMRA-led which often meant the exclusion of most of the new wave of progressive, exciting breweries due to their tendency toward key-keg beer.” – Ferment Magazine.
I can’t help but emphasise that to me this is real on the edge hardcore beery pornography, it almost feels like a separate division to the possibly more familiar CAMRA festival. The volumes go up, the styles of beer are more complex and some of the flavours they cram in get reckless! For example, the third of ‘Cucumbeer’ from Lervig was exactly what it says in terms of aroma and taste. I realise this not everyone’s cuppa tea but you kind of have to admire the craftsmanship that went into producing this ‘hit the nail on the head’ sour style beer. Another worth mentioning that completely sums up the diverse weird and wonderful array of beers at IMBC is ‘Omnipollo’s (Stockholm, Sweden) collaboration with UK based Buxton Brewery – Original Maple Truffle Ice Cream Waffle’ an 11.5% Imperial stout that was even served with toasted yes toasted marshmallows and granola! As my pal Martin Clarke describes ‘Ridiculous concept, perfect execution. Desert in a glass’.
When your sat on the fence, it’s hard to compare the independent style craft beer festival with that of a CAMRA festival, maybe that’s the point? There’s no direct competition between the two, and rightly so as I witnessed the typical old school bitter drinker present, rubbing shoulders with the typical 20 something fuzzy facial hair sporting beer geek who’s likely to be of the ‘Untappd’ contingent. It’s also at this point that maybe just to clear up any misconceptions of biasness I should mention that cask will always be my first love, but as a young beer lover in the 21st century it’s easy to appreciate all forms of dispense methods, styles of beer and flavours – put away those pitchforks if you think that’s a dig at the old-school elbow-bender.
Another thing I’ve picked up on is the ethos of the splendid little geniuses behind IMBC. It’s all good and well having an amazing beer line up but people need to know it’s a good gig. Which brings me onto the venue, Indy Man is hosted within a partially renovated Edwardian bathhouse, so expect high ceilings, decorative stain glass and mosaic tiles, it really adds to the whole experience and sets up the festival for a unique atmosphere. Its undoubtedly played a key role in the festivals success.
Adding to this, I was impressed that Indy Man organisers (a team of barflies from establishments such as Common & Port Street Beer House) included the city throughout the 4-day long festivities, claiming that IMBC isn’t just within the walls of the Edwardian baths. In an ingenious move to really push things forward the festival organisers teamed up with a handful of local favourites on the Manchester beer scene with the likes of Pilcrow a contemporary Scandinavian style bar and its sister pub the aforementioned Port Street Beer House both hosted tap take over/meet the brewer events with ‘Weird Beard Brew Co’ & ‘Burning Sky’ respectively whilst IMBC was happening just short walk away. Both of which of course we checked out during our overnight stay, as the saying goes, it would be rude not too right? Also receiving the pleasure of our black country presence was Marble Arch brewery tap, Café Beermoth, The Smithfield Hotel and Tavern, Crown & Kettle & finally before boarding our train back to Birmingham, Albert Schloss bohemian beer palace for a hearty stein of Paulaner Munich lager…DAS IST SO DAM GOODE YAH!
Over the course of the 2017 I’ve spent a little time in Manchester, as a result developing a keen fondness for the city that I now find myself pondering when my next visit will be. Manchester’s beer scene is buzzing right now, surely, it’s the diversity that makes it an exciting one. Evidently there is a perfect balance of supporting local brewers and attracting breweries from far and wide here in this metropolis. If you’re a fan of the Stone Roses then you’ll know Manchester has got everything…except a beach!
In truth I would love to take snippets of IMBC and implement those for the soon to be approaching Stourbridge Beer Festival. Whether those are realistic wishes are probably as likely as West Bromwich Albion winning the FA Cup! Not that I’m digging ourselves out, because we have made so much headway despite a much more limited capacity and budget when compared to IMBC, the sheer scale and quirkiness as you’ve probably gathered was pretty epic. Most notably cast your mind back to 2016 and in particular our introduction of 6 key-keg served real ales from local craft breweries two. Fast forward 12 months we doubled the quantity purely thanks to how well you lot received this new addition to the line-up.
It’s all about rolling with the times, something we as a branch are keen to highlight and thankfully Stourbridge Beer Festival goes from strength to strength each year and is hugely popular in the local community. At the time of reading this, organising for #SBF18 will already be several months in motion and as always, we’ve taken on board your comments from last year to hopefully ensure we deliver a successful beer festival, I’m certain we can count on your support come April. For many of you, I will see you there!