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Indy Man Beer Con 2015

I must warn you I'm going to sentimentalise a beer festival. Some will definitely smirk and see it as aggrandising but I no longer care.

There was a moment at the Independent Manchester Beer Convention 2015 that gave me a feeling I’ve never had at a beer festival before.

It was the Friday evening session. After an afternoon session of just rolling with whatever happened I somehow ended up volunteering to work the Magic Rock bar in the evening. Don’t ask me how this even occurred, but it was my first time on the other side of proceedings. I’m not a brewer. I’ve never volunteered. So I’ve never had that pleasure.

But, in a brief lull of the mass queues after some Ginspired or Bearded Lady PX, I stood from the bar, looked around this old Victorian pool come sports hall in Room 2 at all the happy revellers and felt a little emotional. The feeling was simple: This Is Brilliant and I’m very happy.

Perhaps that seems a little over-romanticised for a beer festival, but Indy Man Beer Con is incredibly special. I can remember being one of the first through the door for its first session in 2012 and knowing I was experiencing something so exceptional. Now it is a permanent feature in every Beer lover’s calendar. It’s the one people immediately look for the dates of so they can book the time off early at work. It’s the one where tickets released four months in advance sell out for certain sessions in a day. It’s the one where, as I said last year, you don’t ask IF people are going you ask WHEN. It's the festival that defines all the best parts of the modern British beer scene.

I was in attendance Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon and, by chance, Friday evening. I feel like a seasoned veteran, having attended every year now. The room, layouts and quirks of the spectacular Victoria Baths that holds the event don’t wow me in the same way anymore. I don’t even think I took a picture of the tiled fish mosaic outside the ‘Pineapple Room,' nor did my friend go topless for a snap in the old shower as in previous years. What I take great pleasure in now though is being the guide to newcomers that I take along. It’s fulfilling to take them on the tour, watch their reactions, see them fall in love with the place and know they’re thinking how brilliant it is.

My notes and pictures are near non-existent this year. There is little to recall upon apart from my increasingly hazy memory. From a journalistic point of view, I did a poor job. I wasn't noting opinions or thoughts down as the day progressed. ‘Untappding’ wasn’t a priority even though I need to do it to remember everything I’ve drunk. Sitting in the high benches to take the obligatory shots of Room 1 wasn’t a necessity. This year’s blog post wasn’t half written in my head as I milled about, hence the first person self-indulgent post.

The reason for this is simply because I was having too much fun. I seemed to be forever ambient, moving around from room to room, stopping for a chat at every opportunity, hugging old friends, hugging new friends, introducing myself with my middle initial for Twitter purposes, being stopped by people I didn’t recognise, eating outside, eating inside, swapping beers, swapping notes, wearing my brother’s hat, being voice interviewed in the Cloudwater room, staring in awe at the monastery scenes in Northern Monk’s abbey, smelling hops, having a domestic with my friend Rachel about a hot dog whilst people waited for me to serve them on the Magic Rock bar, talking to a discount Harry Styles, drinking Oude Múre Tilquin á l'Ancienne, dancing, laughing and more hugging.

There were a few little changes this year, as there always is. Moving the food to the outside was the wisest choice, especially as the traditional Manchester weather took the weekend off and none of us received emphysema. Cloudwater’s set up in the ‘Pineapple Room’ provided the only new space but was a lovely little and contrastingly bright area. Cask was given its own clearly marked areas. More token areas and (what felt like) more toilets halted the queues. I didn't make the most of the WeCan canning service, but know plenty who did and were delighted to - a wonderful addition.

Outside the event, we made use of the 25% off breakfast at Common Bar for those with tickets. There were various related events to make travellers with tickets for just a particular session feel like Manchester wanted them to make the festival city wide and weekend long.

This year’s small gripes would start with the controversial removal of paper beer lists. Whilst having an updated list accessible from phones will be the future, the list on Friday certainly wasn’t kept particularly up-to-date. For I, whom often chooses on a whimsy based on which room I’m in, this might not seem too problematic, but then why did I have a pencil? Not as much of the building was accessible as previous years. I imagine there were health and safety risks with the owners involved that I never had chance to ask anybody, but I did miss visiting the Superintendent's flat upstairs. Also, the queues to enter may as well be mentioned, just as I know it’ll be addressed next year. I had too much fun for it to be an overall issue, but after arriving for the 11.30 start on Saturday, it was nearly midday when I entered Victoria Baths. As was pointed out by more than one person, we should have brought a beer for the queue.

Yet it’s still all about that feeling I described earlier for me. Indy Man Beer Con has the feel of the US Open. It’s the end of season festival; the last hurrah and chance to enjoy ourselves and reflect on the year before relaxing over Christmas and starting again next year. (Of course, this makes the upcoming Independent Salford Beer Festival the Davis Cup – the bonus tournament.) And it’s been a year with a lot of hate, anger, disagreement… People have written disparaging things about me. People have written worse things about fellow bloggers and good friends of mine. It’s getting nasty out there. It's getting more antagonistic. I'm getting more antagonistic. The reason Indy Man resounded with me so much this year is that it was that end of season timely reminder that this Beer thing we do and love is an incredible scene with amazing people and outstanding events. I hope there was time for everyone to have their own moment to think, “This is my job,” or “This is my hobby,” or “This is my life – and it’s wonderful.” Arguments and differences of opinion make up life, but if there are still people in the industry as sour as a 2015 Rainbow Project case at events like this then what are any of us doing? 

At the end of our double Friday session Rachel and I had a bit of an emotional moment and hugged it out as she said “It’s been brilliant, thank you SO much for bringing me.” No, no – thank the Indy Man team once again. It remains the greatest festival we have.


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