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.

Beavertown Extravaganza 2017: paving the way for modern UK beer festivals

All eyes were on the inaugural Beavertown Extravaganza, an ambitious venture held across two sessions between the 8th and 9th September. Held at London Printworks in Canada Water, a former newspaper printing factory with 119,200 sq ft of floor space, the festival was a showcase of craft beer involving over 70 breweries from across the globe.

The Extravaganza was more than an excuse to overindulge, as Beavertown Brewery invited Good Beer Hunting to curate a schedule of insightful industry talks and discussions as part of the Symposium, which ran across both days. Guests included keynote speakers Steve Grossman, brand ambassador for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and Beavertown founder Logan Plant. Panel interviews with brewers and brewery representatives offered an analysis of trends and the state of craft beer today. 

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The Extravaganza attracted crowds of 4,000 attendees per session and tickets sold out months in advance. For £55, ticketholders were entitled to unlimited 100ml pours throughout their seven hour drinking slot. There were 16 food vendors on hand from KERB, London’s leading rally of food trucks, which included offerings from the likes of Burger & Beyond, Mother Clucker and Decatur.

To ensure that everything ran smoothly, Beavertown did their homework in recent months– they were in attendance at Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen to understand the minutiae of what makes a successful beer festival. They also ran a series of ticketed events in their taproom involving Trillium Brewing Company, giving drinkers a rare opportunity to sample beer from the venerated Massachusetts brewery in the UK.

It was a steep learning curve for the brewery after being on the end of a torrent of complaints from attendees following their Be(aver) My Valentine beer festival in February 2016. The free event saw an unprecedented number of revellers show up, causing hours of queuing for entry, and the industrial lot lacked facilities to cater to such great crowds. The feedback –especially the scathing online gripes– was clearly sobering for the brewery. For a large-scale event such as the Extravaganza, some mistakes were patently not going to be repeated.

Beavertown Extravaganza 2017

At Canada Water station, volunteers were on hand to usher the Extravaganza crowds to the nearby venue. Arriving at the factory, there was no queue for entry and large groups arrived at least an hour in advance to line their stomachs. Many lingered outside the entrance to the first room in anticipation of the session start time. When the doors were thrown open, individuals predictably sprinted towards the stalls of Swedish gypsy brewers Omnipollo and Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing Company.

For those who continued beyond the Rocket Room, they then encountered the Rainbow Room, where each of this year’s Rainbow Project beers could be sampled. These beers are an annual release of transatlantic collaborations between UK breweries and a different country each year, with seven US breweries participating in 2017. Two stalls stood as the end of this thoroughfare area, bathed in ambient purple light.

Walking through to the Skulloon Room, ample seating space was arranged around a Routemaster emblazoned with a Beavertown banner. Queues quickly amassed for Trillium, Three Floyds Brewing Co, Modern Times Beer and Cloudwater Brew Co while other fantastic offerings from California’s Green Cheek Beer Company and Cellarmaking Brewing Company and Toronto’s Bellwoods Brewery required no wait.

Beavertown Extravaganza 2017 J. Wakefield

The UFO Room didn’t attract the same snaking queues, and while Jester King Brewery from Texas and Miami’s J. Wakefield Brewing drew in crowds, they were swiftly serving drinkers. Volunteers manned the stalls, some working alongside brewers, an army clad in a tie-dye t-shirt uniform. About 150 volunteers had signed up for both days respectively, working one session in exchange for a free ticket on the alternate day, and ensured that lines kept moving.

Breweries were pouring beer from two taps, some offering six beers and others offering four during each session. Unsurprisingly, the most sought after stalls were quick to run out- take Omnipollo, for instance, who ran dry within a few hours each day. Friday saw a number of stalls empty out before the end of the night, a matter that caused uproar online. Some attendees complained that given the £55 ticket price, they should have a decent selection of beer pouring well into the night. Beavertown took this criticism on-board for the Saturday session, ensuring that stalls had Neck Oil and Gamma Ray to fall back on once their kegs were finished.

Beavertown Extravaganza 2017

The selection of beers available from US breweries at a UK festival was unparalleled – and the abundance of fresh and notable beers wasn’t limited to the most hyped breweries in attendance. Yes, some of the most memorable beers did require a wait, including Zombie Dust from Three Floyds, a hazy single hop pale ale with big resinous, juicy flavours; the rich and boozy Vietnamese Speedway from Alesmith Brewing Company; and the beautifully tart and fruity SpontanPentadrupleblueberry from Mikkeller.

No waiting was required for the Haterade Berlinner from J. Wakfield, perfectly imitating the bubble-gum flavour profile of a fruit punch Gatorade, and the intensely drinkable Appreciation Barrel-aged Saison with boysenberry from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, which burst with dry sour cherries and farmhouse funk. Finally, Heavy Lord, a collaborative effort between Beavertown and Three Floyds, a Bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with cacao and vanilla, was served on cask and draught. Dispensed on cask, it was exceptional, allowing the coffee and vanilla notes to shine.

Quibbles aside, the ambiance of the Extravaganza surpassed the atmosphere from many more established – and expensive – beer festivals. Spread out across the expansive Printworks venue, there was generous seating and room for movement or general loitering with a drink in your hand. The music came in lively bursts and even the toilets were beyond sufficient for 4,000 people. The KERB food village merits further acknowledgment, ensuring that a variety of cuisines were represented and dietary requirements were catered for.

The crux of where Beavertown succeeded and recent festivals have underwhelmed has everything to do with the details; the venue, still equipped with giant abandoned printing presses, brimmed with character and food options had been carefully vetted. The energy of the crowd was palpable, and even for those not prepared to commit themselves to a lengthy queue and instead floated between stalls, none of the beers disappointed. Despite the size of the event, it wasn't soulless. It found the pulse of a zeitgeist: the resurgence in popularity that independent breweries are enjoying right now across the country.

The Beavertown Extravaganza made a rousing debut and for the details that missed the mark, these will hopefully be ironed out in time for the 2018 follow-up. But on the whole, this is an enormously welcome addition to the beer calendar that further solidifies the position of London as a global craft beer capital.

Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen 2017: the world's best breweries bringing their A game to Copenhagen

From hygge to smørrebrød, there’s a myriad of reasons to visit Denmark. Its capital city, Copenhagen, has established itself as a culinary mecca – boasting 15 Michelin Stars – but this time of year, people flock here for another reason. The month of May brings the Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen (MBCC), formerly known as the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, an event that attracts beer drinkers from across the globe.

Set in Øksnehallen, a former market hall in the city’s Meat Packing District, MBCC 2017 ran from Friday, May 12th to Saturday May 13th across four sessions: one in the morning and the second in the evening each day. Attendees can purchase a single session ticket, splurge on an all session ticket, or dig even deeper for a gold VIP ticket for all sessions – setting them back about £300. My red session ticket granted me free reign during the Saturday morning session for £60. Entry includes unlimited 50ml pours from over 100 breweries, most of which had two beers on keg, making the financial hit justifiable.

The MBCC is the highlight and crescendo of Mikkeller Beer Week (May 8th – 14th), which sees a host of events unfolding across Copenhagen’s brewpubs and taprooms. The whole premise is attributed to Mikkel Borg Bjergsø from Mikkeller, who launched the initiative to gather the world’s best breweries in one spot to showcase two of their best beers per session. And once the beer runs dry, it’s gone.

This is the sixth year of MBCC and tickets – especially those VIP or all session wristbands – are snapped up. The event has spawned a sister festival, the Copenhagen Beer and Music Celebration, stateside in Boston, Massachusetts. This is set to take place in September again this year. 

The ambiance of the festival itself vacillates between convivial and very serious – I made a beeline for Bokkereyder, a lambic brewery from Belgium that ran out of beer within an hour during Friday’s sessions. Aside from having a general idea of the other stalls to visit – admittedly nearly all of them – I made a point of pacing myself. Others, however, sat furiously recording their thoughts on each beer on their laptops and iPads. Some were rumoured to have runners, fetching beers on their behalf.

Despite this, the majority of people were there to try something novel. For me, I was especially keen on finally tasting beer from the impressive list of coveted US breweries. Despite the 2,500 drinkers in attendance, queuing was rare – only Omnipollo required a substantial wait, which was still less than fifteen minutes. I managed a good circulation of the room, trying everything on my hypothetical list with time to idle between drinks, load a hot dog with infinite toppings, peruse the merch stand and even meander over to familiar UK breweries.

The volunteers were chipper – I recognised many faces from London - concealing any hangover commendably. There was even a tattoo booth for the fearless. This year saw a section devoted to 25 new talent breweries, representing countries from Sweden to China. Stigbergets from Sweden was a highlight that I'd experienced the night before, when their beer was pouring at Fermentoren, but tasted equally as outstanding during the MBCC session.

A large section of the beers were barrel-aged or imperial strength. As the session wore on, it became increasingly difficult to differentiate one beer from the next, but despite this, some did stand out as being exceptional.

Bokkereyder: Muscaris Lambic

One of the two lambics that we began our session with, this was an alluring beer that I would've returned to had it not disappeared so quickly. Poured from a bottle, decanted from a basket in the traditional Belgian fashion, the Muscaris embodied beautiful lambic characteristics, with funky, sour notes on the nose and bone-dry tartness in the mouth. Fruitiness comes from hints of white grapes and apples, paired with a nice acidity to balance everything nicely. This soft and sharp beer was both being excellent and unique in contrast to the bolder and darker styles that were abundant.

Jackie O's Pub & BrewPub: Pockets Of Sunlight

Ohio-based brewery, Jackie O's, had two solid beers on, including a bourbon barrel aged maple imperial porter. But Pockets of Sunlight, a beautiful saison, really stood out, a charming beer brewed with honey, coriander and lemon verbena. Spicy, funky and crisp, this is a delicate, but mature, saison: it's fermented with mixed cultures and wild yeast, then stored in a stainless steel barrel following fermentation for six weeks, where the mixed culture is reintroduced. As a result, this complex - yet subtle - beer is highly palatable and refreshing.

Jester King Brewery: Bière de Lenoir

Once again, a shift away from those rich imperial stouts with this alluring sour. Jester King Brewery's Bière de Lenoir is barrel aged in oak, then refermented with Lenoir grapes. It pours a crimson red with red berries and tart cherries jumping from the glass. Sweetness from the grapes is tempered with a vinegar-like tartness and the beer is exceptionally dry, making it easy to indulge in another sip. 

Monkish Brewing Co: Monkey and Toad

Another glorious saison was offered up from California's Monkish Brewing Co. This was brewed to commemorate their 5th birthday and is an oak fermented farmhouse ale with peaches and nectarines. The fleshy fruit came through in a torrent, making this easy to savour. Reminiscent of fuzzy peaches sweets, this sweet and tart combination was a marvel. I was charmed with this beer and returned for seconds, as I found it an intensely enjoyable palate cleanser.

Other Half Brewing Company: Hop Showers - Double Dry Hopped

Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing often knocks it out of the park, so it came as no surprise that we relished their double dry-hopped IPA. Incomparably fresh and bursting fruit aromas made this the IPA of the session with juicy hints of tropical fruit. Big on fruit and lightly complemented with pithy bitterness, this is a thing of beauty. Their Dream in Green was just as popular, a cloudy, milky IPA that gets a creamy body from oats and wheat and also bursting with juicy, tropical hops.

Omnipollo: Gimbagagompa Coffee Vanilla Granola

A beer that required a queue, this was a classic jaw-dropping Omnipollo beer. This Swedish brewery are venerated for their creative, bold styles. Here, a delicious rich imperial stout stood apart from the rest with a powerhouse of dark chocolate, coffee, hazelnuts and caramel in the body; chewy roasted malt and intense sweetness made this an outstanding dessert stout, topped with a frothy creamy head. It only inched ahead of the Mikkeller Beer Geek After Eight stout, which tasted like liquefied After Eight chocolates (better than it sounds, I promise).

Prairie Artisan Ales: Prairie Bomb!

Prairie Artisan Ales hail from Oklahoma and were proffering both their Prairie Bomb and their BA Prairie Bomb. While both were superb, the original Prairie Bomb was the surprising favourite. This luxurious imperial stout is aged with espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chile peppers, giving it a rich spectrum of flavours. Decadent chocolate and intense espresso meets just a hint of heat from the ancho peppers. Moreish sweetness veils its 13% ABV and a velvety body help this go down with remarkable ease. While the barrel aged version was also delicious, the bourbon barrels imparted a stronger alcoholic taste - despite having the same ABV, rendering it slightly less balanced than the original Prairie Bomb.

While it would be reckless to attempt to recount every beer that tickled my palate - and this list is certainly not exhaustive - these are some of the most memorable beers enjoyed. There's a high contingency of USA breweries, yes, and while I downed countless excellent stouts, it was difficult to pinpoint the standalone great examples. This might explain why the saisons and sours made such an impression on me. I also enjoyed many superb beers from UK breweries and the new talent as well.

MBCC granted me the opportunity to try some of the big American breweries that rarely make an appearance in the UK and to access a long list of new breweries from around the world, all of whom were eager to make an impression. Paired with a trip to stunning Copenhagen, this was a festival that lived up to the hype and was an enchanting break from London, even if it felt like we'd brought a slice of London to the party.

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.