Wow… what a weekend!
The Port Street Beer House folk behind the festival deserve our praise, and thanks, for making it happen. Above all, I hope it is a business success as well as a huge social success. We need more @IndyManBeerCon gigs. I’m sure that, like myself, all beer lovers throughout the nation are hoping this is just the start… I’ve already caught wind of a potential London event of this sort kicking off for 2013.
Our recent beer festival left us with empty casks that we needed to drop back at Summer Wine and Buxton breweries. Oh, look, there’s this “Indy Man Beer Con” thing happening… several of our friends will be there… could be interesting. They want volunteers too, well – why not? So on Wednesday we scooted north to Holmfirth then south over the wonderful-driving Woodhead Pass to overnight in Buxton. (For beer go to the Queen’s Head or the Old Hall Hotel – we had great condition Buxton ales in both.) Then on Thursday we popped up to Manchester to help out with the IMBC set-up… a day that predictably ended in beer. Much, maybe too much, excellent beer at BrewDog Manchester and Port Street Beer House. The evening was shared with fellow Twitter beer folk & Untapped users Kirk and Chris… as you can guess it was an evening of total beer geekery. Anyway… the next day the festival begins!
Weirdly for 2 days of beer festival, I actually didn’t manage to tick off even half the beers I was interested in. Next time perhaps I should focus less on chatting & volunteering and more on the drinking part?! I’m going to list some beer highlights now… at the risk of leaving things out & alienating brewers and fellow drinkers…
- Dark Star, Critical Mass (2009) – mmm… rich, dry, bretty stout. Aged since 2009 in-cask with brett yeast perhaps? I can’t find any definitive info online about this particular beer! Right up my alley though.
- Ilkley, Green Goddess – thick, sweet, spiced dessert of a Belgian “bitter”. It magically has worked, somehow, and tastes luscious. When I was behind the cask bar, this was one of the beers people were coming back to for more.
- Dark Star, Belgian IPA – this didn’t work for me, though many people loved it – it’s not you, it’s me… However I found it interesting, especially beside the Ilkley offering. To me there was little of that lovely American hop character left in the beer, and just a huge spike of bitterness in the middle of the palate. (Dark Star need to put more info on their website, this one isn’t there either!)
- Wild Beer Co, Modus Operandi – a brewery I’ll be watching out for. I love “wild” beers, my nose and mouth don’t mind even a lot of wet goat, sourness, funkiness, etc. The MO was balanced & smooth though, a rich & dark saisony sorta beast.
- Magic Rock, Clown Juice – mainly because Stu, the Magic Juice Clown. But also because it is a great beer.
- Hardknott, Queboid – don’t misunderstand, I don’t rate Hardknott beers just because Ann & Dave are my friends. I stalked and badgered the Hardknott folk, and eventually got to know them, because I like their beer. I’m a Queboid fan and have a small collection of bottles spanning several batches going back about 3 years. This was my first experience of it on draught, and it was goooood! Dave’s really perfecting it, if not perfected. (Though I do prefer it a few degrees warmer than it was, between 8 and 10C.) I spent some time at the Hardknott bar and did enjoy introducing people to this beer and sharing in their newfound love of Queboid. (I was in no way threatening in suggesting they should love it… really, I swear.)
- Bitches Brewing, Chocolate Chilli Stout – through a “hop rocket” full of chillies, and with an extra smoked naga chilli thrown in just for fun. WEAPONIZED STOUT! I had this beer for about 2 hours before topping it up with more of the stout and by that time merely placing it in the vicinity of your lips caused them to try and crawl back into my mouth and down my throat. Naga foolishness aside, the stout was a grand obsidian elixir – my favourite type of beer.
- Buxton, Tsar – following that previous point, need I say any more?
- Summer Wine – the whole mixology tasting session! I’m a flavour fiend, and this sort of monkeying around with people’s perceptions & entrenched ideas about food and drink is right up my alley. Beer as a cocktail ingredient?! Don’t be daft! … but why not? Their beers themselves are brilliant, and of course divisive as any such creatures will be. Stout with ginger? Beer with licorice? Good thing I love both ginger and licorice. The gin and Paracelsus beer cocktail was just too much gin for me, I like gin… but in this case it dominated. Less next time? The rum and Calico Jack, with chocolate orange wedge, was a huge success on my tongue. I’m going to have to buy more Calico Jack now I think. Massive thanks to @MaxChater for putting this together in collaboration with the Summer Wine dudes.
- Lovibonds, 69 IPA – a legendary beer that I’ve never managed to get into my mouth until IMBC. It really lives up to its reputation. Lovely IPA and I really must visit Lovibonds sometime… and buy a case of it. :)
- Tempest, Brodies, Thornbridge, Kernel, Marble… too much amazing craft beer? Never! But every one I didn’t get to experience is a wrench to the heart & a deep sobbing in the soul in memory of beers still untried. Sour beers shouldn’t go unmentioned. Cantilion on cask! The Lovibonds Sour Grapes! Oh my, the sheer diversity of it all…
For me, personally, the IMBC was actually more about people anyway. Friends who I’ve met several times like @HardKnott Dave & Ann, Twitter-personalities who I’d had yet to meet like @SimonHJohnson, even coffee gods like @HasBean Steve! Not to mention brewers… many, many excellent brewers. Also folk like myself from the fringes of the beer scene – brought together in one place by the love of really great beer. Nothing else I’ve been to in the UK is comparable… GBBF, for example, doesn’t come close. It is probably a density issue – IMBC was simply wall-to-wall with the sort of beer people you want to meet. It turned out there were people there I should have met but somehow missed, chances are we were within a couple of meters of each other. So, while the IMBC beers were astounding, it really was the people that made this festival come alive. People were the magic-ingredient, beer the not-so-secret-sauce.
The quality didn’t stop at the beer and people however. The organisers had gone out of their way to get it all right. Food wasn’t an afterthought, as it too often is. Not only was there a beer & food matched dinner available to those organised enough to book it – the general festival food was varied & exciting. Gourmet hot-dogs, brilliant quality curries, and a selection of the old staple pig products. I tried them all, everything was up to scratch. If only some didn’t run out of food so early! And COFFEE! I’m a coffee geek as well as a beer geek – quality HasBean filter coffees thanks to the wonderful people at @NorthTeaPower in the afternoon? Yes please! On top of this having @acousticcoffee Dale and @HasBean Steve at the festival was almost overload… context switching between drinking & talking coffee, and serving, drinking & talking beer almost broke me I think.
The venue too… stunning. If you’re in Manchester you must visit the Victoria Baths. Such an exciting building to hold a beer festival in, so many nooks and crannies, such architecture! You’ll get the general idea from their own website, and some of the festival photos. If there was one downside it was the capacity of the men’s toilets. I suspect this may have been part of the reason the venue was limited to 500 tickets per session when I’m sure the bars could have supported at least 50% more. Next time I wonder if a trailer of toilets out the back might be a reasonable addition to proceedings.
The “what is craft beer” debate raged on throughout the festival. We’ll never have a satisfactory definition for something so based in the eye of the beholder. Though for me, in this moment, I’m thinking craft beer is IN the beholder. Craft beer is people. Brilliant, wonderful, friendly, diverse people.
Get some Clown Juice in you!
Don’t just take my word for it though — here’s more: