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Indy Man Beer Con 2017 - is it still relevant?

Soft Serve Trolltunga

After stepping through the doors of Indy Man for the first time in October 2012, I knew I was experiencing something different; a beer festival like no other I’d been to. I was sure that we were seeing a shift in the way things were done and the future. 

In the years that followed came the event's  steady rise and progression – from the opening of more rooms in the building, changes in the layout, desperate scrambling for tickets, visitors from all over the world and then the moment I didn’t seem to know any beer person that wasn’t going.

We came full circle in 2017. This year the build-up seemed to involve a touch less “fuss.” The tickets had still sold-out as quickly, but some of my favourite beer people weren’t doing the traditional journey to Manchester. Indy Man Beer Con had lost its place as the number one beer event on the calendar. In fact, it became almost cool to boast that you weren’t going. It wasn’t about mourning your lack of attendance; it was bragging that you were so post-craft that you didn’t need it any more. 

Attending two sessions – Friday afternoon and Saturday evening – my Indy Man 2017 build-up was more muted than previous years. With so many of my favourite beer people not going, that side of the festival excitement  had gone. The rebuttals to my excitement had taken their toll too. In truth, I hadn’t felt the same jolt of pre-IMBC based excitement as normal either, despite snapping up the tickets immediately. It seemed we were heading towards the festival saturation point and that one of the veterans of the new festival scene was going to suffer first. The Independent Manchester Beer Convention was losing its place amongst  beer hearts. 

Then I joined the queue on Friday 29th September. 

Then I walked the now-familiar tiled corridors again.

And I spent the next two days being reminded as to why this is one of the UK’s premier beer festivals; why it is my personal favourite. 

What IMBC’17 achieved in its sixth iteration was the closest to perfection in a beer event of this scale I have seen. Each year – and I have reviewed each year – has held niggles, irritancies and issues; little complaints to lament over whilst drinking in each room. 

They have listened and adapted to each complaint as the years have gone on and this year they finally made it to a point where I left without a single complaint. Was this their best ever year, as David Holden asked? For my mind, yes.

On the Friday I headed straight for the beer I wanted to try the most: Torrside Brewing’s Barrel Aged Rauchwine. I wasn’t disappointed. The beer was my favourite of the entire weekend. I hadn’t peaked too soon though as nearly everything I plumped for was fantastic (lowest Untappd rating of the weekend was 3.5.). That was the big contrast between this year and last. In 2016 there seemed to be few beers there that particularly excited me. In 2017 there wasn’t anything pouring I didn’t want to try

Approaching the Torrside area, we noticed quite a gathering around their bar. This was surprising; not because Torrside don't deserve a crowd just that queues are a rarity here. Alas, the reason was that the Torrside beers shared a bar with one Other Half who were gathering their usual attention. Even this queue was relatively small and was the only one I experienced all weekend, apart from for Buxton’s soft served beers. The choice and fluency here means individual breweries rarely hog the limelight.

The rather maligned token system from last year – 1 token = one 1/3 pouring of any beer – returned this year, but I was and remain a fan. Doing two sessions allowed me to gather a couple of spares for my second session from those that hadn’t spent up at the first. The result being that, over two different days, I drank 22 different 1/3 measures of beer, all of which were over 6% and I’d never had previously, and spent £35 on tokens. If people are taking umbrage with that sort of pricing then we should cancel all future beer festivals.

It wouldn’t be a modern beer festival without some excellent food and by coincidence my two favourite Street Food Vendors were at IMC17 – Nasi Lemak and Holy Crab. I wasn’t disappointed by either and never have been. Don’t let these two stop doing pop-ups – I selfishly want them to remain at these events for ever. 

A final point on this year’s incarnation: this was the first year the festival had run since Victoria Baths began use as a public swimming pool once more. I was worried this may have affected the integrity of the venue, expecting a couple of moderations to areas such as the ticket office and changing rooms in order to be used this way. I was wrong. The venue remained relatively untouched and as stunning as ever, with a few additional curtains that kept in with the feeling of the building being the only additions we could see.

As it turned out, the bragging absentees were replaced with new Twitter folk I met for the first time in various states of coherence. Some Twitter folk I missed either by not recognising them or by never passing them. That’s the oddity of Victoria Baths – it doesn’t feel enormous but it is easy to spend five hours in the venue and never be in the same room as others in attendance. 

I’m sure that my own experience will differ to others and they will have their complaints. I’m not suggesting they are wrong but my personal Indy Man Beer Con 2017 experience featured no annoyances, just enjoyment. The creases are ironed out. It ran – on the visible surface – like clockwork. The Organisation team have continually learnt from previous years to provide the ultimate Beer Festival in terms of choice, size, fluency and facilities. 

My love for IMBC is not related to location. As has been stated about me before, I am more Wasp than Bee. I have no particular loyalty to the city that happens to be geographically closest to me, unlike other writers from certain cities across the country. My attendance is made consistently easier by geography, but I’ve still yet to experience the feeling I get in Victoria Baths. My visit to Peakender ’17 may have had me believing I was tired of more crowded events but IMBC’17 didn’t just prove the event is still very relevant; it reminded me that it’s outstanding.

Thanks once again to anybody that participated in #fishmosaic. Yes, it is a stained glass window, but realising I didn't clock this has just added to my enjoyment of it. It's the small things.  


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