We are more spoilt right now then we often care to remember. For years I’ve been hearing that there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker and that is only increasing. Still, over-indulgence can lead to complacency and timely feet-grounding reminders can be necessary.
If this time of year really is beer festival season then I thought that I’d grown tired of it. Much like the occasional December when one needs a little push in finding their Christmas spirit, there was something about this festival season that just wasn’t clicking for me. I was weary of rush for tickets, overly subscribed trade days and beer list "drops."
I left Leeds International Beer Festival (LIBF) in September feeling a little disappointed in something that I couldn’t quite place. In contrast to all of my positive previous visits, when people asked me how it was I was responding with a shrug and a muttered “alright, yeah.” I couldn’t place my discontent. The festival is still good with everything in its usual place and I got to see some of my favourite people. And the beers were good.
When I thought about it I concluded that I wanted everything the festival gave me but not in a festival environment. And in a city like Leeds that is more than possible. I would have preferred to have been hanging around with the same people in some of Leeds numerous good beer bars. I could have also had the same quality of beer in those places. There was nothing wrong with LIBF – there was just nothing new about it.
How spoiled I’ve become that an event of such quality in this country can cause a feeling of such apathy. It is still only seven years since regular events of type existed only in the UK scene’s imagination.
It has been an ongoing feeling within me for the last 24 months, with the realisation that places, events and gatherings can’t just rely on serving great beer. It is the reason that for two years I have enjoyed Peakender so much because, even though there are some mightily impressive beers available there, I would be happy to spend the weekend drinking pints of Jarl and would still have the same quality of time. The same can be said of new bars and taprooms. A few pallets hastily thrown together with some school chairs is not enough, just because the beers are considered exceptional.
I’ve heard or seen people before saying they don’t like festivals that restrict serving size to halves, thirds or smaller because they reach a stage where they just want a pint and to socialise. I’ve never experienced this at a festival until LIBF this year. I never thought I’d reach pint desiring stage in that environment but now I understand it.
But every other person I know who was at LIBF in 2018 absolutely loved it, so this is a solo opinion. It would be remiss of me not to mention what an outstanding job the organisers and volunteers did and how I heard nothing but universal praise from everybody else.
It was because of my indifferent feeling to festival season that I had no enthusiasm for this year’s Independent Manchester Beer Convention, a festival that has been a favourite in previous years. In fact I only picked up tickets for a couple of sessions in the week or so before the event from others who were selling them. I almost felt obliged to go, having even written about all six preceding Indy Mans on here, a sign that it has inspired me to say something.
Despite having had nothing but a terrific experience in Victoria Baths every autumn since 2012, I wandered back into that beautiful building for the Friday afternoon session this year with nothing but a negative attitude. I was already convinced I wasn’t going to enjoy myself. Sometimes one needs a timely reminder.
Indy Man Beer Con 2018 was the timely reminder I needed.
I'd assumed that the wonderment of the building and setting would have become stale after seven years. I was wrong. I assumed that my disinterest in thirds of enormous beers at festivals would take over. I was wrong. I assumed my hatred of networking - it is all about net-curtaining people - would find me put in socially uncomfortable situations. I was wrong.
I've over-romanticised about the annual Victoria Baths beer event before but it was good to remember why. I don't know how it feels so familiar yet so fresh year on year. Perhaps it is its relative longevity that makes it work so smoothly now that the tone and the atmosphere are just right, even in what can be busy areas.
In terms of keeping things fresh, it was helped by my own attitude changes. Shunning pastry stouts and murk bombs for some of the best saisons and wild beers I've ever had turned out to be an out-of-character stroke of genius. Of course, there were still plenty of barleywines to be had, especially on the "relaxed" Sunday session - my first ever visit on this day. There was a first experience of the Wild Beer cheese extravaganza, which is a frenzy reminiscent of Monica Gellar buying a wedding dress.
Still, no Indy Man trip is complete without annual tours of the building, reading the same history of the building signs, pictures of Fish Mosaics and shunning all over food vendors to only eat at Holy Crab.
It is also never complete without terrific people and friends both in the industry and out, something else that I shouldn't need repeated reminders of but find that I do. It is interesting that a few I spoke to missed the event last year as they weren't as interested as previous years and they felt they enjoyed it even more this year because of that.
|Fish Mosaic '18
I am not going to say that you missed out if you weren't in attendance. There is too much of that nonsense already being said. My differing feelings in Leeds and Manchester only proves how subjective it all is. Prior to my weekend at Indy Man, I was preparing to write that festivals needed to up their game once more to stay relevant. I realise now how stupid that would have been. There are different aspects of these festivals to enjoy and nobody is going to be 100% satisfied.
Though Indy Man Beer Con 2018 came very close for me.
It is still a great time to be a beer drinker. The most fortunate part for all of us is that we can choose to go to the events, drink the beers or visit the bars that make us happy. There should be no FOMO. There shouldn’t be a feeling of staleness. There is sometimes the need to reset and remember.
As a little extra note, I used to say that Indy Man had a season end feel to it, wrapping up the festival season before we look to Christmas. This isn't the case this year. I've still three that I am really looking forward to in Dark City '18, Smokefest and the Independent Salford Beer Festival in its new home. All three are very different affairs and offer something new and different. I would suggest that, if you are/were feeling stale like me, you try and get to one for a reset.