Last year I sat in work and watched with envy as the assembled beer geeks at IndyManBeerCon held a (tap) takeover of my Twitter timeline. At times the tweets seemed to verge on hyperbole, but even so I resolved not to miss out the following year. So it was on the day they were released I snapped up two tickets for the Saturday afternoon session, reasoning that by only booking for one session, Gemma and I would get to see more of Manchester besides a disused swimming baths – big mistake.

The weekend got off to a flyer on Friday morning when I realised I had unwittingly booked first-class train tickets, and my thoughts immediately turned to free (train) beer. As we took our seats it wasn’t long until the trolley pulled up, and I was pleasantly surprised to be served a bottle of Tilting Bitter, a refreshing, zesty pale ale brewed for Virgin Trains by Redwillow Brewery. I was further pleased to see that the bearded, self-promoting megalomaniac owner of Virgin hadn’t managed to crowbar his mug onto the label, thereby rendering the beer undrinkable.

As the train pulled into Manchester the sun was shining and the place seemed alive, and all clichés about the grim north were banished. After checking in to the hotel, Gemma and I took a walk along the canal and, having time to spare prior to taking the Coronation Street tour (really), we popped into nearby Brewdog. There were no guest beers on as the taps had been cleared in advance of that evening’s Brew By Numbers takeover, so I decided to go for a can of Modern Times Beer‘s Blazing World. Powerfully hoppy yet balanced, satisfyingly dry and bracingly bitter, I wondered whether I’d just had my beer of the weekend before I’d even set foot inside IndyMan, and I was still contemplating it an hour later as we learned of the origins of Roy Cropper’s shopping bag.

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As we arrived at the Victoria Baths the following morning, the queue went around the block and I began to fear that the event had been over-subscribed. I needn’t have worried, however, as such is the size and layout of the venue that queues simply aren’t an issue. It doesn’t seem an incongruous location for a beer festival either; it seems the most obvious place in the world to convert into a cathedral of beer for one glorious weekend in October. The first beer highlight came immediately as we entered, as we made for the “Pineapple Room” which was hosting Cloudwater. I ordered a two thirds pour of Motueka Lager (image above) having acquired a drouth while queuing; and I was glad I did, with the New Zealand hop beautifully showcased. I could have happily settled there for the afternoon but with so many beers to drink and people to meet we went exploring.

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Before long we and found ourselves in the Green Room which was hosting Firestone Walker. It was still early in the day but I couldn’t resist a third of Wookey Jack, an 8.3% black rye IPA. It’s a phenomenal beer, complex yet cohesive: sweet and bitter, with coffee and citrus married together with the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Brilliant. Other highlights were Bo and Luke from Against the Grain and Burning Sky‘s Flanders Red, but one beer in particular captured the essence of the festival for me: draught Gueuze Tilquin. Context is all important when it comes to our relationship with beer, and I enjoyed this glorious gueuze while Gemma and I shared a cheeseboard from Epicerie Ludo in one of the former changing cubicles as we watched the revellers outside. It was perfect, and in that single moment I knew I’d be back next year.

Given the above comments I am reluctant to rain on anyone’s parade, but we need to talk about pricing. As someone outside the industry I’m not appraised of the factors that have to be considered in putting on such events. I understand that import taxes and alcohol duty play a part, however with some beers priced at five tokens for a third and tokens priced at £1 each, this equates to a £15 pint. Can that ever be justified? I’d imagine some will roll their eyes at this and have me pegged as a philistine or plebeian, but this is an honest query and not a gripe. It would be a fantastic move for the organisers of IndyMan and other festivals to clarify their pricing strategy, if only to educate lay drinkers like me.

I may have been lucky enough to wander the cobbled streets of Weatherfield, but one session at IndyMan was nowhere near enough time to even make a dent in the beer list or catch up with so many good folk. A “full fat” ticket would destroy me, but next year I’ll be spending more time at the event by which all beer festivals should be measured against. Now how’s that for hyperbole?

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Down the rabbit hole - an interview with Jacob McKean of Modern Times Beer
The Beer & Food Companion by Stephen Beaumont