Last year’s Indy Man Beer Con was probably my favourite weekend of 2014. It genuinely blew my mind, totally shattered my perception of beer festivals and left me feeling I’d never be able to enjoy another as much again.blo
So in June when tickets went on sale for this years event I immediately snapped them up – for three different sessions – and began the countdown.
But as those four long months passed I began to question whether the event would actually be as good as I hoped, whether it’d even be as good as the previous year.
I went along to my first session on Friday afternoon in glorious Manchester sunshine wary but with an open mind.
One of Indy Man’s most obvious strengths is its venue.
The iconic, 110-year-old Victoria Baths are every bit as stunning as I remembered and a perfect setting for a beer festival.
The main room was home to the small cask bar along with Magic Rock, Camden Brewery and The New Zealand Collective (a collaboration between Renaissance, Tuatara, Three Boys, 8 Wired and Yeastie Boys) amongst others.
There was a good atmosphere in this room, though it was fairly hectic for most of the sessions.
The next room was much quieter and more relaxed. It featured bars from the likes of Hawkshead and the brilliant Tilquin.
Master blender and founder Pierre Tilquin was on the bar and later running exclusive tasting sessions of his stunning Oude Mûre Tilquin à l’Ancienne.
I loved that each room had its own vibe and seemingly attracted a different crowd. The third was the darkest and noisiest, with regular DJs and live acts.
Not really what I come to a beer festival for personally. But I spent a lot of time in there as it was also home to the Beavertown bar as well as my favourite UK brewery, Buxton, who were responsible for many of my beer highlights.
I had some reservations about the brewery lineup when they were released. Namely the lack of some key international breweries, particularly Evil Twin – two of their beers were in my 2014 Top Ten – and my favourite brewery this years, To Øl.
Despite those reservations, I managed to get through 65 beers across the three days. A good mix of favourites together with interesting new breweries and beers.
There were a few lows but that’s to be expected when you’re trying such a wide variety, there was also some real highs.
I’ve somehow narrowed down to a top ten; it ranges from a 1.6% milk sour (Udder Madness) to an 11% rum barrel aged imperial stout from Estonia (Taara Avita!) and interestingly features six sour beers.
IMBC 2015 – Top Ten Beers
- Cromarty Brewing Co. – Udder Madness (Milk Sour)
- Buxton Brewery – Tsar Bomba (Generation 3) (Imperial Stout)
- Against the Grain – There Gose The Neighborhood (Red Pepper Gose)
- Buxton Brewery – Bloc Head (Sour Saison)
- Burning Sky Brewery – Cuvée (Sour Saison)
- Buxton Brewery – Wyoming Sheep Ranch (Imperial IPA)
- Lervig – 1349 Black Ale – (Bourbon Barrel Strong Ale)
- Mikkeller – Blå Spøgelse (Blueberry Lambic)
- Põhjala – Taara Avita! (Imperial Stout)
- Tilquin – Oude Mûre Tilquin à L’Ancienne (Blackberry Lambic)
One big improvement on last year was moving the street food vendors outside.
Not only did it free up a lot of space inside but it was great eating in the sun (admittedly we were very lucky, it could just as easily have been raining) during the daytime sessions.
There was a good range of food available from fancy fish & chips and gourmet hot dogs to Indian street food.
Almost Famous were back too; this time with their American style Mercedes food truck, ‘The Wondertruck’.
I loved that they only offered three burgers, all fairly traditional too. Not topped with steak or meatballs or crisps, just quality beef with classic toppings.
I had the ‘Big Wonder’, a triple burger with American and Cheddar cheeses, crispy bacon, onions, pickles, ketchup and baconaise (yup, that’s bacon mayonnaise!).
It’s a truly fantastic burger, every bit as good as if it had come out of their flagship Northern Quarter burger joint.
I also demolished three Honest Crust pizzas (not on the same day).
The always amazing ‘Nduja topped ‘Atomica’.
And a couple of new ones; ‘Fennel Salami’ and ‘Pigs Cheek’. Both were great – it’s impossible not to be when the bases are so good – but Atomica still reigns supreme.
Saturday night involved a giant hot dog from Diamond Dogs.
And a ridiculously good value cheeseboard from Chorlton based deli ‘Epicerie Ludo’.
Another plus point for this year’s event was the presence of ‘We Can’, a mobile canning company. With the help of their fancy equipment, any beer could be canned and taken away.
Apparently they kept beer fresh for 4 or 5 days. My can of 8 Wired – HopWired IPA lasted approximately 5 minutes.
Despite my initial doubts I had a brilliant time across the three days. Each had a totally different atmosphere and enough new beers and breweries to keep multiple visits interesting.
Really my only problem was the price of some beers. Tokens cost £10 for ten this year whereas last year they were £10 for 11, a subtle increase missed by many.
Yet the average price of a beer seems to have gone up rather than down; last year there were several available for 1 or 1.5 tokens, this time I could count the ones I spotted on one hand.
Most seemed to be around 2/3 tokens (£6-£9/pint) but some were an eye-watering 6 tokens! Yes, £6 for a third or the equivalent of £18 a pint!
I’ve heard arguments on both sides as to whether this is justifiable. The key point from the other side seems to be that they’re ‘equivalent to bar prices’. Personally I don’t think that’s valid and do feel the prices are too high. For me, a beer festival should encourage sampling a wide variety of beers which clearly isn’t possible at excessively high prices.
Plus we don’t pay £13 for a ticket to a bar.
Ultimately though, Indy Man Beer Con is a great event, with fantastic beer in a stunning venue. Prices are so high because people pay them, myself included.
At the end of the day I had a great weekend and I just can’t imagine myself not going again next year and beyond.
Dates of visits: 09.10.2015 / 10.10.2015 / 11.10.2015Follow @BeerGeekBlog Follow @FoodGeekUK