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Dear Beer Con

Whilst attending your festival there was some confusion in the queue that led to my hair getting wet. On arrival I wasn’t presented with numerous free tokens. Do you know who I am?. It’s a disgrace.

It is no secret that the beer industry can be a pugnacious space. Fuelled by the natural negativity of social media, there are more arguments and squabbles in this vacuous void than ever before.

The unrelenting antagonism became a little too much for me last year until a visit to Salford beer festival tore me from the doldrums of despair. The positivity of this particular festival space acted as a personal patronus against the beer Dementors that were slowly sucking the joy from anything to do with this hobby

In the ensuing 10 months though the joy began to fade once more. Expense, repetitiveness, FOMO, guilds, Facebook forums and the constant fight for power by the networkers all brought me back within the group of silent, aimless, beer Hattifatteners. The good of that one positive experience was diminished slowly.  

With that, I arrived outside Victoria Baths for the eighth year running full of near militant truculence. All anybody had heard from me in the run up was how I nearly didn’t come and wouldn’t have been bothered if I hadn’t. The pouring rain and resultant queue confusion did not help improve this situation. I felt internally like the irate Liverpudlians behind me who were already unimpressed with Indy Man Beer Con 2019 before they had been gifted a wristband.

I’ve been accused of being too sentimental about beer events and festivals before; of over-romanticising the regular act of tasting a few beers in a room of others. But in these consistently rubbish times - nationally, in the beer industry and on a personal level - any assemblage of happiness should be celebrated. And what succeeded for the next 5 hours in a Grade II listed swimming baths was jubilant.

I’ve always been transient in this event as that provides the fullest experience for me. It allowed me to spend time in each of the three main rooms – whether that be listening to some interesting tune choices in Room 3 whilst seemingly being involved in a game of “Murder in the Dark” or observing the fuss around the Cloudwater stand with Crab Balls in hand in Room 1. Whether it be catching up with beer people from Huddersfield and Italy – the latter in the country just for Indy Man – in the Lervig tent or taking time to pile into the Pineapple Room/Verdant’s photobooth and not appearing in any of the pictures.

There’s time to be bawdy, time to grab a new pin badge, time for Fish Mosaics and time to accidentally create Untappd for human beer people “Oh there’s X-person over there.” “I’ve already spoken to them.” “Oh right, so they’ve been done already have they? Check-in – 3 out of 5 – would chat to again.” All whilst drinking some of the best beers I’ve had this year, though most of those were from Burning Sky. There’s a lot of laughter. It reminded me of that moment in 2015 when I thought about how much I enjoy being part of this community; for this is one of a handful of events that proves that such a community exists within this industry, as if that were ever a debate...

Prices were increased over previous years, though I didn’t personally see a 3 token beer. I spent maybe a tenner more than usual and even that wasn’t entirely necessary. It didn’t feel as cramped in places or as difficult to navigate. It didn’t seem as loud, certainly not in the majority of rooms. The pre-event complaints of it being too pricey, too cramped and too noisy – or that all festivals are – did not correlate with my experience here.

Not that there is anything wrong with the differing opinions of course, but that negativity towards this festival felt more manifested this year, especially from people with no intention of attending anyway. Festivals aren’t for everybody - or maybe this particular festival isn’t - yet it is inevitable that some of my own earlier trepidation upon entering Indy Man Beer Con 2019 had developed around those online conversations in the run up.

It is representative of the mood of much of the country in October 2019 that those sullen opinions were more vocal. Heaven knows, I’ve built up a representation as having an online grumpy persona more than most. Yet I would like to think that I would stop short of being critical of others attending events just because it isn’t personally for me. “I don’t like rugby so don’t understand why anybody would watch the Rugby World Cup.” “I don’t like modern computer games so don’t understand why anybody would play Red Dead Redemption” “I don’t like television dramas so don’t understand why anybody would watch Killing Eve.” That isn’t humour – that’s just being cussed.

As I said on Twitter at the time, I hope those people found something they enjoyed to do last weekend whilst criticising those doing something different to them. I needed the reset and the smiles, something that this particular beer festival has done for 8 years now. The only shame is allowing the influence of that negativity to convince myself that I no longer needed it.   

In previous years I’ve spoken about the alterations and the improvements. I’ve discussed the logistics and the positives. Perhaps I would have mentioned the queue problem in those posts. After eight years there is little more to be said of them other than there was a lot of Burning Sky beer and food from Holy Crab and that is more than enough for me.

Given that I pontificate lyrically about an annual visit to Victoria Baths as if it were a near religious experience, whilst others just drink some Imperial Stouts and eat heavily dressed hot dogs, I understand the ridicule this will draw. I care not. From the awe that I felt in 2012, to the sheer gratitude for the experience in 2015, to the relaxation of 2017, I needed to feast on the positivity of 2019; to spend five hours away from the belligerence elsewhere. That is an altar I’m willing to die on with a glass of Saison and a hugely out-of-tune rendition of London Boy.

Unless the queue becomes a farce of course…

There is another side to this which is less romanticised that I may get around to writing in the next fortnight, though correlates with this article by Matt Curtis for MASH, if you would like to read that first…

The opening text is the joke blog that it was suggested people could “hear” me mentally typing as I stood in the queue getting wet.


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