There are already multiple excellent writeups of this year’s Indyman Beer Con, but I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts mainly for personal reference if I ever would have to look into putting on an event at any scale. (Also, I seem to not have taken any amount of pictures of the festival, so I apologise for the text-heavy post)
The Victoria Baths just south of Central Manchester is a great venue for a beer festival, the sloping floor of some of the pools notwithstanding. The grand Edwardian surroundings have plenty of air in the main halls to not feel cramped, but also feature nooks and space for socializing. The key is to get the number of attendees to match the available space without the whole thing turning into a giant noise pit.
The distance from the immediate city centre surroundings worked really well too, meaning that it was a destination. You came for your session(s) purposefully, without distractions from around. However, it did mean that you were limited to the food offering on site, which while good, did clearly best work if you were at the festival for only a single session.
I may be in the minority in liking paying for the food stalls in tokens just like I did for beer, given that by Saturday the stalls were accepting cash as well. It was nice to know that I could get an amount of festival currency and not have to worry about change and someone taking card.
On the other hand, by and large the prices were quite steep. The general average price for a third-of-a-pint pour was (by my reckoning) two tokens, equating to £2. This worked great if the beer was something I would not be likely to see elsewhere, such as the excellent Against the Grain Brewery stuff, but for standard-strength UK stuff it wasn’t cheap. Special commendation must be made for Magic Rock Brewing for their £1 Simpleton pours, though!
I genuinely wish there had been a better way to communicate the events and any changes to programming. I know this comes back to the venue and its limitations, multiple rooms and outside space, but a man talking into a megaphone while the piped-in music still blasts at full volume was not conducive to getting attention.
I also have to critique the music. I know it’s incredibly hard to please everyone over the four days the festival was happening, but the live acts were in my opinion dire. While I love Dolly Parton covers as much as the next guy, a hipsterrific quintet with a vocalist who didn’t face the public and swayed like a stereotypical mentally-disturbed character in a movie while singing really didn’t grab anyone. Perhaps better suited to a basement bar, not a high-energy beer festival.
BrewDog doing a live brew outside on Sunday did attract attention, but I felt it could have used more of a platform (quite literally). It seemed a bit tucked away the way it was, next to the food trucks and marquee.
I tried some fantastic beers over the weekend, and met some wonderful people involved in their making. I find this is the optimal way to run a festival – make sure that staff from your brewery are actually present and able to give you a run-down of the beers, knowingly explain your business ethos/history and share in the love of the beverage. The attending breweries were clearly chosen with care, but I found it strange that reportedly the festival organizers chose the beers to be exhibited from lists provided by the breweries. Surely the breweries themselves should get final say on what they showcase?
That said, I have to be honest and say that I found the inevitable “what beer(s) did you like most?” questions both during and after the festival incredibly difficult to answer. On the one hand, being summoned to try some “funky farm shit” from Brew By Numbers showing off some barrel-aged Belgian-style beers stood out, but I count those guys as friends. I was very impressed with Põhjala beers, with their stout being a standout, but while excellent, didn’t do anything new as such. I know this shows me off as a jaded hipster, but so be it. However, if you get your hands on any Magic Rock/Arizona Wilderness Cross-Pollination heather honey IPA, you can thank me later.
I can see why people raved about Indyman previously. I liked my first time going. The crowd is friendly, the brewers are in attendance, the venue is beautiful and intriguing, and the selection of breweries/beers is excellent. It’s not without its issues, but I would definitely recommend it even as is. That said, a full weekend of it left me wrecked for an entire week if not more afterwards, which is why I am only writing this now.