It is strange to recall the relatively little fanfare that a two day event from 2012 caused in comparison to this last weekend. I sat in Port Street Beer House several times that year, pondering the posters and beer mats that sang loudly of “Indy Man Beer Con;” a contrived celebration of craft wankerage that was to break away from the norms of airport-lounge-style beer festivals that Real Ale drinkers had patented. I don’t even remember when I thankfully sliced off my own cynicism and purchased tickets for that year but it wasn’t long before the event. So as I glanced at my Saturday session ticket for this year’s Indy Man, I couldn’t help but grin at the realisation these were purchased back in April to secure my spot. It’s getting big.
It was a different occasion this year. This year, anybody with a Twitter account and a beer G-spot was attending. The build-up during the week consisted of my Twitter feed filling itself with the entire world masturbating over the weekend’s prospects, lamenting that they couldn’t make it or trying to tout their tickets as they were purchased so long ago they’d actually forgotten the event was happening. It was wild excitement, usually reserved for countdowns to Christmas or the release of a Harry Potter book, so different to the short fanfare of two years previous. You stopped asking people IF they were going and simply asked WHEN.
This, however, is not just Indy Man’s third year of existing, it is my third year of attending. (Read all about 2012 and 2013 if you want.) The only difference for me this year is that I was now attending the Trade Day Friday session, as well as Saturday’s afternoon soiree.
Needless to say, I can not write any post about the Convention with the same youthful, starry eyed vigour of some of the festival’s first-timers, but it was still too good to not convey into a post.
I arrived to the now-familiar Victoria Baths on the Friday alone, without truly knowing if I was going to be confined to a day of drinking in the Superintendent’s flat alone or making a hundred new friends. I took my glass and tokens and headed to Room 2 as has now become the routine to find an already full event swinging. I wouldn’t have thought in my twenties I’d be the sort that could attend such events like a friendless pauper desperately trying to fit in, but this isn’t a gathering where one needs to worry about being alone. Before I’ve ordered my first drink, I’ve already spoken to a few people whom I’ve never met but are so excited by their surroundings they might as well be wearing t-shirts that read, “This is so fucking awesome – HUG ME!!!”
You speak to brewers about their work and find, luckily that they are more than happy to talk about it. You walk around; double taking at people you may have once seen a picture of on Twitter. You stare people dead in the face, trying to match the real human features to the small Avatar you see on your phone most days. Luckily, few beer folk seem to filter the hell out of their photos and most are instantly recognisable. Occasionally you are tapped on the shoulder and somebody asks “Are you Mark?” and you greet old friends who you’ve actually never met before in your life. You talk, you laugh, you drink and you don’t remember most people’s names after the tokens have run out but it was still good to meet them anyway. I even bumped into somebody I went to Primary School with and haven’t spoken to properly in sixteen years – it’s a small beer world.
The festival hasn’t changed much since last year. Magic Rock have decided to invade one of the three large pool rooms leaving Beavertown to locate in, what I feel, is the prime spot in the Turkish Baths and turn it into a mini disco. The festival has extended with Brewdog’s portable bar-come-wagon that they’ve felt the need to bring. They are forced to park in the smoking area where they are largely forgotten by most of us, especially after glancing at their prices, which happen to be twice as much as every other British brewery in attendance. They stalk around outside like the unwanted cousin nobody wanted to invite but felt they were required to, waiting for the moment that never comes to launch anarchy into your face.
The talks and tasting sessions extend into small rooms, basements and old Committee Rooms. Once you’ve finished giving yourself various lung diseases from the smokiness of Room 2, relax in the darkened ambience of Room 3. Join the more hardcore beer conversation in Room 1 or relax to talk, briefly, about non-beer things for a while in the fold down seats, high above the pool.
There are more spontaneous mini-talks happening at random intervals that involve little more introduction than “Hey everyone, come over here and I’ll talk about beer and probably give you some.” I taste three of Squawk Brewery’s beers for the first time and have more than my fair share as the bottles are passed around. I listen to Wild Beer Co. talk about much of their birth and brewing processes, whilst people throw out generic beer questions in the hope of having t-shirts thrown at their faces. We strain to hear Jay Krause of Quantum Brewing whisper about his Brett C beer but love it all the same. You would think it could be hard to enjoy a beer that the brewer has just spent five minutes convincing you is much too young at this stage to be any good, but fortunately the beer is so delcious even the brewer doesn’t know it.
The beers are so good so frequently that I wouldn’t want to start dishing out awards. However, a special mention to the collaboration between Indy Man Brew House, Black Jack and the fabulous North Tea Power named Deer Hunter, that I did not expect to love, but truly did.
Things get hectic towards the end and I am the one idiot you heard on Saturday smash his glass. I am possibly the only person to ever come to an Indy Man Beer Con and do so. It was me. It is all made good again though when I end my day at the ice cream stand I've sadly forgotten the name of and can't find in my programme. There are various ice creams made with beer - one made with Beavertown's Gamma Ray. If you ever thought that eating ice cream flavoured with Gamma Ray might just make you explode into a huge ball of smiling emoticons, you would be absolutely right. We're talking Gamma Ray Ice Cream here, people. Delicious.
Can’t fault it? Well, as a veteran to this now, for the first year I actually CAN. Why? Well, it has always been that Indy Man Beer Con, for all its other attributes that set it so distantly from the older beer festival formats, has always made good on the beer availability. Nothing satisfied me more at these events than being able to peruse a beer list, walk up to the bar that promises it, order it and actually be given that beer without any problems. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case this year. The beer lists became more guides of products that could potentially be on. Peruse the list, ask for that beer at the bar and then find yourself being recommended a different beer because the one you want isn’t on. This is not how we do things at this event!
I find the comical side in this on the Friday when I come across a lost-looking and considerably hungover Brian Dickson (now of Northern Monk fame) who looks like the only person in the Victoria Baths who doesn’t want to be there, unless someone can quickly find an ice bucket to pour over his head. I ask him why his Chennai Porter is not on when it is clearly on the list. He simply shrugs his shoulders with an expression that suggests that what he really wanted to say was, “Do I look like a give a fuck?” This typical relaxed attitude soothes me somewhat, after all there is still so much God Damn amazing beer here.
Come Saturday though and a few grumbles are running through my group. The main problem seems to be controlling the pressure from a lot of the kegs and most seem too lively to go on. At one stage I reach the bar in Room 1 with three beers in mind that I really want to try - and not one of them is on.
This year seemed to have fewer of the brewers themselves serving you the beer, which has always been a nice touch at previous events. I certainly do not want to criticise the excellent volunteers who made the entire thing possible in their place. I just want to share one story from late Saturday. I noticed Siren’s Rainbow Stout “Empress” was available in Room 2, that I had missed on the list. As it was being poured for me, I asked the server what colour Siren were. He looked blankly at me. “It’s black this beer. It’s a stout.” I smiled, realising I had phrased it badly and asked instead what colour Siren were in the Rainbow project for this beer, as I couldn’t remember. He looked more confused. “Stouts are usually dark, mate. Was it a light beer you wanted?” God bless him.
It doesn’t really matter of course. It is still a brilliant weekend and even more so for the newcomers. I watched from a distance this year at the number of people striking poses in the changing cubicles along the sides, remembering doing the same two years ago. The location is still fantastic, but I do hope it finds a new home in time to keep things fresh.
Whilst I am reflecting on Sunday about the previous two days, I remember exactly why I love IMBC so much through a text from my friend, who is at the Sunday session.
‘I’ve just overheard a man saying, “the problem with these sort of events is you can’t get a pint of Robinson’s for example.”’
Yeah… exactly what we were all thinking too…