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Indy Man Beer Con 2013

In 2012, the highlight of the beer year came in October at an old Victorian Baths in Manchester. It came as the Independent Manchester Beer Convention announced their innovation to an old, tiresome format and changed my perception of beer festivals, or at least what they could be. It was a joyous success and only natural that it were to return this year, bigger, bolder and certainly busier. There was a lot to live up to, high expectations, a requirement to improve on near perfection, so how did it fair?

Room 2
Lasting four days this year, rather than the previous two, I, along with five companions, opted for the Saturday Lite session allowing me to experience it from 11 'til 4.30. Two days of jubilant tweeting, hashtagging and bragging had already passed before I could return to the Victoria Baths to take my enjoyment from the festival. The rooms had expanded from two to three, the food range had multiplied considerably and so, notably, had the number of festival goers. Yet the venue felt the same, the tokens were the same, the glasses were the same. If you were lucky enough to attend last year you’ll know that there was a great deal of familiarity in this year’s event.

The beer menu was perused with the same air of incredulousness and scrutiny. This is a festival where such delights as Beavertown’s Black Betty, Magic Rock’s Cannonball or Summer Wine’s Pacer are dismissed as too ordinary to use up valuable tokens as the rarer treats take centre stage. But every beer is a winner. Brewers and writers mill about the floor enjoying the day with the rest of the layman. The seasoned experts exclaim elation at being served To  Øl  by Tobias, himself. The novices cry delight at their first taste of Magic Rock’s Carnival, without realising it was crafted by the very man who poured it for them. The veterans introduce themselves to others they only recognise through Twitter avatars. The amateurs ask for beer recommendations that any number of drinkers are willing to provide.

Yet it’s busy this year. It’s sold out. The capacity limit has been calculated and, whilst the crowds are never overpowering, seating is limited, even in the upper echelons of fold down chairs. The chance for conversation with brewers and volunteers is reduced. Few breweries have stands of their own. A confused and offended Emelisse brewer knows nothing of the Tap East beer I ask about. The chance to speak to Tobias about his own Liquid Confidence is stolen by a cowboy hat darned pusher in need of an Acorn Brewery Barnsley Gold. Chance to give feedback to those working is taken away.

Still, it’s a glorious day. The non-beeries who accompany me enjoy every drink as much as I. The venue is still delightful and available to be explored. Drinking by the old ticket barrier, in the changing rooms or the old showers are the norm here. They are opportunities not to be missed. The stained glass remains untouched. The tiled bannisters still shine green. The light pours in (apart from in Room 3 where it is purposely limited to give a boudoir setting.)

Siren's "Red" IPA
The drinks are impressive. Five tokens for a Mikkeller BA Big Worster Chardonnay prove worth it. To Øl's Liquid Confidence is even better than it was from the bottle, but not quite a match for their Black Malts and Rock Salts. Beavertown’s Imperial Lord Smog Almighty is powerful, smoky and indulgent. Emelisse’s Innovation Series is a useful palate cleanser. Siren’s Rainbow IPA (red) is…erm… yellow (cop out if you ask me.) Nobody is disappointed with their choice. Drinks are passed around, shared, discussed, strangers stop to ask what’s in your glass at intervals, tasting notes and favourites are amongst the conversation. Beer is still king here. It remains the event’s focal point.

Otter's Tears
There’s still time for reflection, drinking an Otter’s Tears from Thornbridge, in dedication to the late Simon Johnson. It’s a community event and earlier this year the community was united in their grief.

Still, lost friends would be pleased to see how brilliant this event is again. Not a negative comment is said on the day and few in the following contemplative hours. We all spill out into the city of Manchester, to talk of our highlights. Was it laughing whilst posing in the disused shower once more? Was it a charming Camden Brewery worker making a recommendation to my friend, who offered nothing more helpful than to say “I like beer,” which turned out to be her favourite drink of the day? Was it digging deep amongst the token collection to make sure there was enough for Barrel Aged Big Worster? Was it giving a drunken hug to a rather confused and lost looking Zak Avery in Font Bar later on?

It was all of these and everything else combined. It was another terrifically organised event. Watching those attendees lament that it is over for another year every minute on social media since just shows its popularity. Yes, it was boozy, and my head paid for it Sunday, but every drink was worth any moment of recovery required. Celebrations of beer are rarely this good, but, as far as I’m concerned, always should be.


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