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The highlight of Manchester’s beer calendar is undoubtedly the Independent Manchester Beer Convention, or Indy Man Beer Con as we like to call it.
Returning for its fifth year and seemingly going from strength to strength. Tickets to the peak time sessions sold out in record time.
Although I enjoyed 2015’s event I felt it wasn’t quite as good as previous years. It was right back on track in 2016 though. In fact, in many ways it was better than ever.
Starting from the moment I arrived at the iconic Victoria Baths, dismayed to find a rather large queue had already formed.
I wasn’t expecting to get in any time soon but the door staff were far more efficient that previous years. Checking tickets and issuing wristbands in the queue so we could walk straight in when the doors opened.
I won’t bang on about the amazing Grade II listed, 110-year-old former swimming pool too much for fear of repeating myself. Suffice to say it’s still an incredible setting for any event, let alone a beer festival.
Another improvement this year was that most of the bigger breweries were given their own bars with their own branding. I much preferred this than having them all mixed on big unidentifiable bars as had previously been the case. It made it easier to find breweries and gave each room more of an identity.
The brewery selection was far better too. They seemed to focus on local breweries more last year which whilst admirable isn’t really what I attend a premium beer festival for.
Pretty much all of the best UK breweries were covered. And with a few notable exceptions – Mikkller and Evil Twin particularly – the international lineup was stronger than it had ever been.
Perhaps the biggest change and certainly the most controversial was the decision to switch to a single price for all the beers.
Tokens were priced at £2.50 each or £2.27 if bought in bulk. They got you a third of any beer. Be it a 3.5% session pale or a 15% imperial stout.
There were many complaints about this before the event. I guess I can understand why. If you mainly drink lower abv/cheaper beers then the equivalent of £7.50 a pint is going to seem pricey. But I like to drink a wide range of styles and am naturally attracted to the bigger and more expensive beers at festivals. I paid 6 tokens (£6) for a single drink on more than one occasion last year. This year I could almost get three for the same price.
But it wasn’t even saving money overall that I like best about the new system. It’s just so much simpler and saves having to worry about different costs when doing ’rounds’ or deciding how many extra tokens to buy towards the end.
The busiest bar across the three sessions I attended was Manchester’s own Cloudwater.
They had an advantage in that they were located near the door in the main room but they’re also one of the most hyped breweries of the year.
Plus, I guess if you’ve travelled from further afield to a Manchester beer festival it makes sense to check out Manchester’s hottest new brewery.
The latest in their DIPA series – V8 – was launched at Indy Man and was one of the few beers to be available for the entire duration of the festival. It was good, as previous versions have been – though still none as good as V2 for me – but one of their dark beers stole the show.
I’ve been critical of Cloudwater’s dark beers on more than one occasion. Not least their first ever imperial stout on their launch date in March 2015 which was borderline undrinkable.
But they’ve clearly upped their game in recent months and this Pedro Ximenez barrel aged stout is simply stunning. One of the best beers I”ve had this year.
Another local brewery, Chorlton, were not only serving their great sour beers but also pairing them with a range of fruity syrups including woodruff and hedgerow flavours.
It’s traditional in Germany, apparently. I found it interesting but too sweet for my tastes.
According to Untappd I drank 49 beers across the three sessions. Besides one horrendous Parma Violet Porter from Thornbridge, I think I chose pretty wisely. It was tough coming up with a top 10 but here it is (in no particular order):
WarPigs Brewpub – Cry For Help, Rick
Noting fancy but a very solid porter. Smooth and roasty with chocolate and dried fruit flavours. And named after a Ricky Astley track.
To Øl – Chateau Øl
A 10.4% Belgian tripel fermented with white wine yeast. A very unusual beer that tastes like a wine/beer/cider hybrid.
Marble – The Pit And The Pendulum
The original version of Marble’s imperial stout ‘Portent Of Usher’ almost made it onto this list but was just pipped by this Bourbon barrel aged and bretted version.
There’s so much going on but it manages to hold it all together. It’s very rich, the Bourbon is subtle while the brett is strong but balanced.
Wild Beer – Amuse Gooseberry
I was disappointed when I went to the Wild bar for Amuse Rhubarb to find it has just gone. Luckily it as replaced by this beauty.
A super zesty and sour lambic style beer with tons of grapefruit flavour and a wine like acidity.
Verdant – UTO
This is a perfect example of why I love beer festivals. I’d barely heard of Verdant before and may not have tried this beer anywhere else.
I’m so glad that I did, it’s one of the best black IPAs I’ve had for a long time. A perfect balance of roasted malts and piney hops. And amazingly drinkable for 9.3%.
Fourpure – Deucebox
Although I do like Fourpure’s ‘Juicebox’ it is very, well juicy. Perhaps too much.
The cleverly named imperial version Deucebox is even better. It has the same juiciness but also a resinous piney and bitter finish. It makes it more balanced and much more to my tastes.
To Øl – !!!PA Simcoe & Mosaic
A massive 13% triple IPA.
One of those that actually tastes its ABV but in a good way. Essentially a hoppy barley wine.
Beavertown – Gondoila
Rich, sweet and fruity chocolate and raspberry imperial stout.
Magic Rock – Hypnotist
A hazy, super hoppy New England style IPA.
Recent batches of this are too sour but the original version was brilliant, the best new Magic Rock beer for a long time.
Cloudwater – Pedro Ximenez BA Imperial Stout
Thick, rich, full bodied imperial stout. Ridiculously smooth and tasting amazing. Sweet and bitter with chocolate, vanilla, raisins and a sherry finish.
As always at events like this, I’m as excited about the food as the beer.
Indy Man is one of the best when it comes to the standard of food on offer and this year was no different. I ate my way through a large proportion of the wide and varied selection of street food traders on offer.
From the obligatory Honest Crust wood-fired, sourdough pizza and burger from Almost Famous’ Wondertruck…
To Indian street food from Leed’s based Bundobust, who have since opened in Manchester (review coming soon).
No food goes better with beer than cheese. Especially quality cheese from Chorlton’s excellent deli, Epicerie Ludo.
But there was only one trader I went back to at every session.
I seem to be stalking Holy Crab lately having eaten their food several times at Magic Rock Tap, Cafe Beermoth and GRUB events at Alphabet’s brewery.
Their fried offerings such as ‘Crab Fritters’ and ‘Cheesy Crab Balls’ are great.
The sliders better still. I tried ‘Crab, Apple & Bacon’ and ‘Sweetcorn, Crayfish & Pineapple’. Both perfect beer snacks.
But really it’s all about their oysters.
I couldn’t get enough of them. I’ve no idea where they get oyster as big and fresh as this in Manchester but I wish I did.
Dessert came from Blawd Bakehouse who supply the Northern Quarter’s Common with amazing doughnuts.
Overall, Indy Man 2016 was a fantastic event. It’s always very well organised and this year was no exception. It’s a credit to the team behind the event and also the hundreds of volunteers.
My biggest complaint in the past has always been that it’s quite expensive. But for me at least the new token system has made it cheaper. I enjoyed all three sessions and will definitely be back for more of the same next year.
With a couple of tokens left at the end of the final day I took advantage of mobile canning unit WeCan. They fill and seal any beer available from the festival for just 2 tokens.
They’re said to last up to five days. I wouldn’t know as my can of Fourpure’s Deucebox only made it as far as the train home.
Date of visits(s): 06.10.2016, 07.10.216 & 09.10.2016Follow @BeerGeekBlog Follow @FoodGeekUK