Indy Man Beer Con
The past few years have seen a creeping revival of the British booze scene, witnessing everything from boutique gins to farm house ciders become more prevalent, thanks to artisan producers of some serious craft injecting real energy and excitement into the drinks of our history and heritage. For its part, real ale has spearheaded this resurgence, moving through the ranks from old man’s treasure to hipster tipple of choice, headlining the agenda at the local boozer to its current mainstream status, with larger swathes of supermarket shelf space dedicated to independently brewed beer than ever before.
It hasn’t blown wide open quite yet however, and is highly unlikely to, given the complex flavours and process geekery inherent, ensuring it will never truly ensnare the masses. Resolutely remaining an acquired taste for the largely long-haired, beard-wearing crowd, said crew were on show at Indy Man Beer Con, the latest offering in beer festivals. Headed up by the passionate folk at Common and Port Street Beer House, they put on a do aimed to out-do all dos at the most stunning of Manchester venues, Victoria Baths, and as part of the Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) programme, I felt compelled to go along.
Now, largely a red wine, rum and cider drinker, the real ale movement has somewhat passed me by, apart from the occasional half pint of Robinson’s Old Tom and a recent flirtation with the brewery’s collaborative beer with Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys. I know cock-all about the terminology, processes and drinking culture involved, so was half bricking it, half tingling with anticipation over what a day of learning and drinking would bring. A warm fuzzy glow as it turns out, and a burgeoning relationship that I hope grows into a full-blown love affair.
Having wandered the venue (a treat in itself) and clocked the cask, keg and event rooms squirreled about the place, (and a nifty little Brew Dog pop up to boot), I broke myself in gently with a pale ale, as you do, from Yorkshire based Magic Rock Brewing Company. Curious by name, curious by nature, it unexpectedly tasted of mango and smelt divine, with citrus fruit wafts emanating tantalisingly from the third of a pint chalices we were given by the organisers, with the aim of ensuring we tried as ‘broad a spectrum of beer’ as possible. Excellent idea, and more than manageable for a rookie like me.
Unlike many of the attendees, pottering around with beer sheet in hand and ticking off ales as they inhaled them,* I winged it , wandering round sans sheet and talking to brewers for want of clue, and did fairly well (I think). The joy of the pale ale led to me trying a Blood Orange Tea collaborative number from Stockport’s Quantum Brewery and North Tea Power, a slick, fruity ale with a bitter back hit that set me nicely on course for a stout, mixed with chilli and chocolate by the magicians from Brewing Bitches. Cack name but cracking stuff.
Brewed specially for the event, it comprised cocoa, scotch bonnet and naga chillies to make for a sweet initial hit, which gave way to rich, dark flavours followed by a tingly sensation. Incredible! All in all, the day was a revelation. I learnt the difference between cask (twice fermented and traditionally hand pulled) and keg (brewery pasteurised with added gas), the history and characteristics behind a session beer (less than 5% ABV and drinkable over a period of several hours), and that traditional brews are complex, flavoursome and happy drinks, produced and supported by some incredibly passionate people.
Much to my dismay, I also learnt that drinking real ale turns you into a big old pig too. On arrival, I had myself a pork shoulder barbecue roll from Mal at Fire and Salt BBQ (smothered in the fast becoming legendary Alabama red sauce) and heading out the door snaffled myself a Dachshund Dog of smoked polish sausage, stout-soaked sauerkraut and Bavarian smoked cheese joy from those geniuses at Dirty Dogs are Hot. After four hours of drinking, I was in sore need of a smackerel of something to soak up all those beer juices, and serious sustenance to power me through the 40 minute walk back to town. That’s my story, is all…
Having attended the beer lite session during the day, I missed out on the potent promise of the evening’s festivities, which served up beer talks on yeast, hops and craft beer at large, brewer tastings and live music, plus the true excitement only apple candy floss can bring from the guys at The Moss Cider Project, in attendance with their co-operatively produced Cider Pony. From all reports, the evening was a great success, and with more of the same today and tonight, I’d heartily recommend you try bag yourself a ticket. I’m already putting myself down for next year, all in the name of continuing my education, of course.
Final weekend of the MFDF and its all eyes to the festival hub, where street food still reigns supreme, plus more beer based fun for your roving (and now rolling on account of all the MFDF food and booze consumed) reporter. The beer tent has morphed into (what I suspect to be a slightly watered down version of) Oktoberfest, with German beer brand Veltin’s sponsoring. Packed to the rafters with after-work drinkers and kids kicking off their weekends, the whole of Albert Square was in excellent spirits on the final Friday of the festival.
With the street food changeover taking place earlier in the week, my flatmate Aoife and I tucked into pulled pork nachos from El Kantina, though Chaopraya and Levanter Fine Foods were also pulling the crowds with Thai delights and paella respectively. All washed down in the beer tent with a pint of Veltin’s, an easy-drinking clean and herbal beer, we were serenaded by a lederhosen toting oom-pah band, who had the crowds up on the tables dancing to Poker Face, Delilah and Bohemian Rhapsody, not to mention a rousing Happy Birthday for an eighteen year old I’ve ever met.
Great food and drink and great atmosphere, take yourself along to the festival hub to see MFDF out in style.
* Real ale drinking may just be the train spotting of booze. All little beardy men with sheets, ticking off the beer supped and looking sublimely happy as they go.