Indy Man Beer Con 2017: a beer festival going six years strong

The Independent Manchester Beer Convention – often abbreviated to Indy Man Beer Con or IMBC – returned for an impressive sixth year across four days in September and October, 2017. The event is famed for its stunning venue – a majestic Grade II listed Victorian bathhouse – alongside its line-up of eminent breweries from the UK and beyond.

Brainchild of the team that brought you Manchester bars and eateries The Beagle, Common and Port Street Beer House, IMBC is fuelled by an energetic vision; the organisers felt that the UK beer festival format wasn’t capturing the fast-paced, innovative modern craft industry. Even after six years, they’ve managed to keep the festival relevant and representative of what breweries and beer styles people are drinking.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester

This year’s line-up included some world-class participants, from Manchester’s own Cloudwater Brew Co to Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing. Some stalls rotated, serving for two of the four days, while the room sponsor breweries remained for all sessions, which included Beavertown Brewery, Buxton Brewery, Cloudwater, Fourpure Brewing Co, Lervig, Northern Monk Brewing Co, Siren Craft Brew and Wild Beer Co. In addition to the libations was a food village, where vendors also alternated between days.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Bathhouse

The venue is brimming with character, with surprises around each corner and tight spaces built for more slender Victorian frames. Disconcertingly for drinkers, one of the rooms is still used as a swimming pool and, even covered, the floor sloped. The ornate details of tiled floors, terracotta and turquoise brick are found throughout. Located above the swimming pool, lined along the balconies, were changing rooms with candy stripe curtains.

A single pour of beer required one token, costing £2.50 each, and the IMBC app contained each session’s beer list, allowing ticketholders to coordinate their drinking in advance and receive notifications when new beers were put on. The main rooms were bustling, but the adjacent smaller sponsored rooms offered brief respite from the crowds. Although busy, queues for even the most popular breweries moved swiftly, and most attendees were milling about eagerly.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Pizza

Moving on to the beers, we have to mention the popular Buxton and Omnipollo collaborations: first, the Original Texas Pecan Ice Cream, a rich pecan caramel imperial porter brewed with vanilla and lactose sugar, was topped with soft serve, honeycomb pieces and miniature marshmallows. Photogenic and indulgent, even when the novelty pieces with disregarded, the beer was memorable, sticky with waves of rich chocolate and caramel.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Omnipollo

Equally as moreish, but served in a less camera-friendly style, was the Original Maple Truffle Ice Cream Waffle, another robust imperial porter. This time, brewed with maple syrup, cocoa nibs, cassia cinnamon, vanilla and lactose sugar, the beer was a showstopper without any frills. Aromas of rich expresso, chocolate and maple syrup drew us in; intense bittersweet cocoa and maple attacked the palate, finishing dry.

While the imperial porters garnered plenty of excitement from drinkers, other noteworthy beers included The Blend 2017 by The Wild Beer Co, a very drinkable sour, with funk on the nose and a tart, citrus flavour profile with more complex notes detectable, such as hints of fruit like melon and guava. Yet another imperial stout of merit was Hawkshead Brewery’s Sour Cherry Tiramisu, aged in Bourbon barrels, which was bitter, tangy and bursting with tart cherries.

Pennsylvania’s Forest & Main Brewing Company slipped under the radar on a modest stall, obscured by the overflow of drinkers from their neighbour, Cloudwater. Their Lunaire, described as a terroir-driven saison, came recommended and didn’t disappoint – aged in wine barrels for six months, it was pure funk and hay on the nose. Bone-dry and giving hints of white wine on the palate, this was a rounded yet complex beer.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester

There was no shortage of impressive beers showcased at this year’s IMBC, but the saisons, sours and the extravagant imperial porters really impressed. It’s no surprise that this event attracts pilgrimaging groups from London, which is two hours away by train, as the brewery list, friendly atmosphere and the atypical venue come together to make it exceptional.

And with a session completed, the dynamic city of Manchester beckoned, which is worth the trip alone. After session attendees spilled out on the pavement, cabs were hailed and punters naturally headed towards the comfort of the superb Marble Arch, where more beer was paired with chips and gravy and the northern hospitality was enjoyed.

London Beer City 2017: going four years strong

This year saw the triumphant return of London Beer City, a 13 day event showcasing craft beer across the capital. Now in its fourth year, the itinerary was loaded with several concurrent happenings each day, making it impossible to do it all.

With some clever logistical planning, however, it was plausible to squeeze several events in on a single night. There were plenty of opportunities to get involved, even if you bypassed the three day long London Craft Beer Festival, one of the focal points of LBC. Other events that unfolded between 3 - 13 August included tap takeovers, food pairings and open brewery days. Some events were ticketed, but most weren't, making it easy for the tempted to show up and discover some of the best beer that London – and the UK – has to offer.

London Beer City opening party at Mason & Company in Hackney Wick.

London Beer City opening party at Mason & Company in Hackney Wick.

It all kicked off with the opening party on Thursday the 3rd August. Hosted at Mason & Company in Hackney Wick, a spirited crowd showed up to sample the special LBC beers for the first time in good company. The festival beers saw two groupings of breweries: The Five Points Brewing Company, Pressure Drop Brewing and One Mile End Brewery representing North London with Agadoo, a saison brewed with pineapple and northern hemisphere hops, and the South Pacific Pale from Fourpure Brewing Co, Brew by Numbers and Wimbledon Brewery brewed with southern hemisphere hops.

In addition to these, the beer list included some exemplary British beers worth working through, including 07/08, a strawberry wit from Brew by Numbers, Pale from Buxton Brewery and the intensely chewy Quebec Syrup Heist brown ale from Pressure Drop Brewing. A DJ ensured that music filled the air throughout the evening, contributing to the general buzz of excitement. 

A packed corner of The Duke's Head in Highgate, where Marble Brewery was showcased.

A packed corner of The Duke's Head in Highgate, where Marble Brewery was showcased.

The Duke’s Head in Highgate held a meet the brewer event on Wednesday the 9th August, with Manchester darlings Marble Brewery, who travelled down to London for a tutored tasting and tap takeover. Beer writer Matthew Curtis led the proceedings with support from the Marble team, including their head brewer JK (James Kemp). For a £10 ticket, guests were treated to an evening with four half pint samples of beers on cask and keg. The event was popular, selling out and seeing dozens of attendees squeezed into the back section of the cosy pub.

The story behind the recently resurrected Dobber IPA was relayed by Matthew, who helmed the campaign to have the beer reintroduced and helped brew the first batch himself. Trying it on cask and keg, opinions were divided on whether the cask or keg version was superior- while Matthew confessed to being more partial to the latter, our table thought that cask had the edge. The Marble team brought some special limited edition samples in tow, including some stunning barrel aged offerings, which were passed around for all to relish.

Tiny Rebel being bold at the Great British Beer Festival.

Tiny Rebel being bold at the Great British Beer Festival.

As a counterbalance to the London Craft Beer Festival, primarily showcasing keg beers, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) is a celebration of cask. Britain’s largest cask ale event has been running for 40 years and brought in droves of drinkers to Olympia in Kensington from Tuesday the 8th - Saturday the 12th August. The best of the UK was represented alongside examples from the US and further afield. The scale of this festival is absolutely immense, with a sprawl of booths serving up extensive menus, broken up by region or country. Some breweries splashed out on their own stand, such as Cardiff’s Tiny Rebel Brewing Company, who were also offering a small keg selection to eagle-eyed customers.

Great British Beer Festival Harvey's Brewery

Harvey's Brewery from Lewes proved very popular, dispensing several ales to a thirsty crowd, including the mighty Prince of Denmark imperial stout with rich notes of chocolate and liquorice. The collaboration beer with Burning Sky Brewery, Anglezarke IPA, had generated enough of a buzz that punters were immediately notified of the precise time that it would be put on.

The crowd at GBBF is diverse in terms of age, seeing groups of younger drinkers jostling with older drinkers, and the atmosphere is a bit confused. But given the sheer size of the event, it's no wonder that it feels as if it would be impossible to cover it all in a single session and it felt slightly disorganised.

The Tottenham tasting session at the London Beer City closing party.

The Tottenham tasting session at the London Beer City closing party.

London Beer City concluded with an eventful closing party on Saturday the 12th August at the Five Points Brewing Co's warehouse yard in Hackney. London breweries were featured and their beers served across three bars with tutored tastings sessions offered; sessions were broken down into three of the capital's beery neighbourhood hotspots: Bermondsey, Hackney and Tottenham. Brewers and representatives of the featured breweries guided small groups through one of their beers each, giving tasters insight into the beer and some tasting notes.

Just as it began, LBC finished with a cheery crowd of drinkers who demonstrated healthy enthusiasm about great beer. The size of the crowds at many events were indicative of how the interest in craft beer has growth in London – and that it's becoming increasingly accessible to a larger segment of the population. The ethos of LBC is, after all, to encourage everyone to appreciate small beer and champion independent breweries. After four years, it's certainly continuing to achieve just this.

London Craft Beer Festival 2016: a review

Last week, I recounted my experience at the London Beer City 2016 opening party. This set a convivial tone for the ten day event and it was only befitting that it concluded on equal terms.

Enter the London Craft Beer Festival, spanning across three days over six sessions from the 12-14 August in East London’s Oval Space. Over thirty breweries were represented, ranging from local familiars to lesser known International brewers. Both keg and cask were featured- Fuller’s Brewery sponsored an entire Cask Yard- and a pop-up bottle shop from Beer Merchants was on site, brimming with rarities to take home. Attendees were beer lovers of every ilk, migrating from stand to stand, sampling and deliberating as they went.

The LCBF, now in its fourth year, has nearly outgrown its britches. Most sessions sold out in advance and the size of the crowds has perceptively grown from previous years. Even the Friday afternoon trade session- habitually a smaller, more casual affair- was teeming with passionate aficionados unconnected to the beer industry. 

Glorious summer weather persisted throughout the weekend with temperatures lingering in the low-to-mid twenties well into the evenings. Industrial fans brought some relief as the main space began to feel like a greenhouse, but there was also ample outdoor space. This included a terrace where Fourpure Brewing Co was set up, perfectly positioned for drinkers who had escaped the stifling heat. The Cask Yard also afforded refuge from the crowds, hosting live music on a small stage and boasting a more low-key ambiance.

Each brewery present at the LCBF alternated their kegs for each session. Magic Rock Brewing Co proffered The Rule of Thirds IPA on Friday and Saturday saw Rhubarbella, a rhubarb braggot. Brew by Numbers dispensed their 14|03 tripel, Ella, late Saturday night, but Friday afternoon drinkers eagerly flocked to taste π|07 from their Pilot Series, a mixed fermentation saison hopped with Enigma, Nelson and Motueka. These examples only scratch the surface of the shuffling, but every session brought another extensive checklist of fresh beers to sample.

I had the privilege to attend three sessions across the weekend and was in a perpetual circuit, tasting everything that caught my eye or was brought to my attention, especially during the trade session. Friday heralded some exemplary beer from a powerhouse bill of breweries. My personal highlights were counterbalanced with some disappointments and, admittedly, my preferences were influenced by the clinging humidity. I generally favoured saisons, pale ales and sours.

I particularly enjoyed the Framboise BA Syrah from Bermondsey’s Anspach & Hobday, a sour/wild ale with qualities of a sublime thirst-quencher: it boasted a juicy, pleasant tartness and finished with bone-dry crispness. Denmark’s wunderkind brewery, To Øl, also had a raspberry beer on: the Roses are Brett saison. It was a deep ruby colour with more sourness on the nose than the Framboise, but revealed the same soft tartness from the fruit and a sharp, refreshing finish.

The aforementioned Brew by Numbers π|07 mixed fermentation saison was a beautifully balanced summer libation that favoured honey-like sweetness from the tropical hops over lip-puckering tanginess. Perhaps the most surprising saison iteration of the day was a spontaneous collaboration between Wiper and True and Partizan Brewing Ltd- I was keen to sample the former’s Barley Wine Keeper Beer, but held some reservations about a sweet drink boasting an ABV of 10%. I was offered a sample blended with Partizan’s Raspberry Lemon saison with the assurance that it married well. The result was crisp raspberry lemonade, the sweetness of the barley wine tempered by the tartness and soft carbonation of the saison. A future collaboration, perhaps?

One of the stars of LCBF was irrefutably Omnipollo, the terrifically imaginative brewers from Sweden, and their Bianca Mango Lassi Gose soft serve. Their Mango Lassi gose, an explosively juicy beer with mango pulp and a hint of sea salt, was topped with a swirl of soft serve ice cream. It was idiosyncratic and popular- given the Sahara-like conditions inside the venue, this hybrid beer/soft serve drew an perpetual queue throughout both the Friday and Saturday sessions.

Cloudwater Brew Co generated a frenzy of anticipation as the Saturday afternoon session kicked off; the new versions 6 and 7 of their ever-transforming DIPA, both relying on a different strain of yeast in fermentation, were available. Although drinkers made a beeline to their stall, the kegs lasted for two hours. The version 6 seemed to sway most palates, demonstrating explosive fruity notes that were sweet, tropical and dangerously palatable, its ABV masked entirely. My preference was the version 7- albeit somewhat controversially. The huge fruit characteristics were dialed down and there was a pleasantly bitter finish that achieved a perfect balance. Both were intensely drinkable, however.

During the Saturday session, Weird Beard Brew Co were dispensing some notable beers, most notably the Hops Maiden England, an English pale ale showcasing UK hop varietals- this version featured Olicana, UK Cascade and UK Chinook hops. It was a shift away from the earthy and malty profiles of traditional English ales; instead, it exerted more character with citrus and resinous qualities associated with US varieties. We later tried their newly launched imperial IPA, Defacer- an assault of Sorachi Ace lightly tempered with toffee and malty notes. But the hops prevailed- I’m a fan of Sorachi Ace and this was serious rocket fuel.

The Beavertown Brewery stall was also a hub of activity, serving some rare examples from their Phantom series, which focuses on infused Berliner Weisse and gose styles. I spotted the Dame Melba Phantom (peach and raspberry), Pearvert Phantom (pear and gooseberry), Yuzilla Phantom (yuzu and dried lime), St Clements (Blood Orange and Lemon) and Earl Phantom (dry-hopped with Earl Grey tea). From the recent Tempus Project, the brewery's experimentation with wild yeast and bacteria and barrel aging, both collaborations with Founders Brewing Co briefly appeared- the Brux and Claussenii Brettanomyces IPAs- and also the Deimos, a sherry barrel aged Weizendoppelbock. Those that I was fortunate enough to catch were equally impressive- all of the Phantoms were deliciously sour and intensely flavoursome.

Turning to darker beers and harking back to Beavertown, their 'Spresso scotch barrel aged imperial espresso stout was a potent hit of rich espresso, proving highly aromatic and intensely smooth on the palate. The devilish Nao Pecan Mudcake stout from Omnipollo is more of a liquified dessert than a beer- and perilously drinkable. Yellow Belly, a peanut butter biscuit stout collaboration between Buxton Brewery and Omnipollo, was just as moreish with a harmonious blend of sticky sweet and savoury flavours.

The Cask Yard made its maiden appearance at LCBF this year- located only a short jaunt from Oval Space, it was still overlooked by many attendees. We were free to work our way through a vast range, including Sierra Nevada Brewing Co’s Torpedo IPA , Double Summer from the Yeastie Boys Brewery and Fuller's and the Espresso Stout from Dark Star Brew Co, which retained a complex spectrum of characteristics from the expresso beans. It was reminiscent of a cold brew coffee- mellow sweetness without lingering acidity.

As each session unfolded, I found myself revisiting the same beers in succession. Despite feeling that I’d undertaken a drinking odyssey of epic proportions, I missed some laudable beers and overlooked some breweries entirely. But as my stamina waned, I was drawn towards the dance floor and the real spirit of LCBF resonated with me: I was drinking great beer in the company of great people.

So there you have it: London Beer City 2016 came to a close at the London Craft Beer Festival with a group of us belting out Together in Electric Dreams, hugging glasses of Brew by Numbers’ 14|03 Tripel. It's not difficult to see why it drew such large crowds this year and leaves me wondering how it will evolve to meet the increased interest in 2017.