IndyMan, “THE” Beer Festival?

Phew, what a weekend, two glorious afternoon sessions at the first Independent Manchester Beer Convention or IndyMan as it is more affectionately known.

IndyMan was always going to be special, it was groundbreaking, the first of it’s kind and in my view at least an event that strove from the start to examine everything about the average British beer fest, pull out all the best bits and attempt to put the whole shebang together into the perfect beer extravaganza.

So did they pull it off?

There were so many things about this festival that made it such an exceptional event, for starters the venue even before you got through the doors was stunning. An imposing example of Victorian grandeur. Almost scary, conjuring visions of horror movie sets and lunatic asylums of years gone by. A living reminder of how our own class structure has changed over a hundred and six years, with first and second class male, plus a separate ladies entrance. Inside was no different as you are transported back in time, little of the interior having changed in all that time. Winding tiled corridors, steam and sauna rooms, vast ceilinged pool areas lined with individual cubicles and high seated balconies for spectators.

I learned to swim in a place just like this (no, not in 1906) and it held so many memories. The fear of swimming all the way over there (points) a whole width, the first triumph at actually making it and gradually proudly moving on to earn my swimming badges. Now I was standing in a pool exactly like that one from all those years ago, not filled with water of course but something I now prefer much, much more, BEER, how cool is that!!!.

Brewdog were in attendance too. Normally banished from all but the coolest festivals in the land, here they had, in a typical Brewdog stylee, their very own bar, cooler than an extra cold cool thing yes?

Better still Brewdog Manchester-Mini also hosted two (or more) pop up tasting sessions where lucky punters were treated to two new bottle releases, San Diego Scotch Ale (a whisky aged Scotch Ale made with Ballast Point rum soaked raisins, which was one of the stand out beers of the weekend for me and another absolute beauty the latest in the Abstrakt range AB:11 an Imperial Black Barley wine which again was absolutey delicious.

Pop up tastings were not limited to here alone of course as there were several others featuring more breweries spread over the weekend along with food and beer pairing sessions, there were talks and seminars too including the much anticipated “What the hell is craft beer” debate with speakers from all across the beer spectrum in action. Sadly I missed this (video coming soon I believe) but was lucky enough to attend a pretty exclusive tasting session with none other than Kjetil Jikiun (the bearded giant), head brewer from the awesome Nøgne ø..

An experience I’ll remember for a long time as he’s such a lovely host, as well as being a brilliant brewer and generally a top bloke.

The food was pretty awesome too with a range of great beer food available in the cask beer hall over the weekend including the new range of pies by genius pie makers Great North Pie Co, evenings only sadly.

We also had to name but a few, sumptuous slow cooked pork from the Fire and Salt Barbecue, a range of beautifully zingy curries from Sindhoor and a range of ultra popular dogs from Dirty Dogs if the queues on Saturday are anything to go by, these guys no how to griddle a sausage (ooh-err), look at the size of this monster!

Beer, I’ve not really mentioned it much thus far but as you’d expect the beer list was of the finest order and catered for all tastes. The cask room had a range of (surprise-surprise) cask ales, cider and even gueuze all situated on a room wide bar which changed as the weekend went on, this meant that although you may have been disappointed if you’d missed a particular special beer, there was always another there to take its place.

The other smaller bars were all situated in what I’d assume used to be the main pool area and this was where the majority of brewers were on hand to pour their beers in person and chat to punters in real time, if you’d read my post on Friday on “making the connection“, this is the one particular aspect of IndyMan that was most important in my opinion.

As a drinker you’ll remember the conversations had here and be able to put a face to a beer for want of better words. For the brewer to it was a brilliant way to get first hand feedback on the beers they’d presented in a way not normally possible on such a large scale.

Favourite beers of the festival? Wow, that’s a tricky one as they were all really, really good and it’s so hard to pull any out for special attention, but I personally think these stood out:

  • Bitches Brewing – Chocolate, Vanilla and Chilli Stout
  • Magic Rock – Tequila barrel aged Cannonball
  • Lovibonds -Sour Grapes
  • Quantum – Blood Orange Tea Pale
  • Camden – Unfiltered Hells
  • Tiny Rebel – Hadouken
  • Brewdog – San Diego Scotch Ale
  • Wild Beer – Modus Operandi
  • Summer Wine Brewery – Calico Jack and Aoraki Red
  • Ilkley – Green Goddess

Seriously though, there were sooo many fantastic beers on show here, if I’ve not mentioned yours here and I drank it, trust me it was delicious, I didn’t have a beer that was anything other than brilliant all weekend. Looking at that beer list again now, I feel slightly sad that I couldn’t have sampled more.

So, was it “THE” festival, a true benchmark of how beer festivals should be?

In truth I’m not sure it can be really, although it clearly ticks lots of boxes for this drinker. The venue is pretty much unique and not everyone has access to such a grand resource, especially with most festivals operating on much lower budgets. Having brewers pouring beer direct in such numbers too is obviously a non starter in all but specialist events, time is at a premium for these guys who already work 7 day weeks on the whole. If they were pouring beer all the time who else is going to make it.. It could be something to consider locally though albeit on a smaller scale?

If there is one thing this event did really well though that could be replicated over and over all across the land is how everyone involved made the whole thing just plain enjoyable. Because all tastes were catered for regardless of beer dispense method preference, the whole thing was a just happy go lucky joyous treat to the senses where the aromas and flavour of beer was the most important thing, no petty arguments just fun.

It may not be “THE” beer festival in everyones eyes yet, but it’s certainly the one I’ll be looking forward to most for the next twelve months. Thanks again to everyone I met, chatted to and shared beers with, Cheers

Update, check out The Beercasts IMBC12 view here

Leigh at The Good Stuff’s fine take on events

There’s more at Ale GD

and still more from Simon at Reluctant Scooper

and finally from Tandleman one of the craft debate delegates.

Generation Ale – Shepherd Neame

There’s always a sense of anticipation I feel when a brewery has taken the time to tissue wrap and seal a beer, it shows they are proud of their creation and want to present to their customers in tip-top condition.

When they go a step further and encase it in a wooden box, complete with clasp and seal it yet again, you’d hope for the moon on a stick moment when you finally get it to the glass, luckily this one delivers.

Generation Ale is the brainchild of Stewart Main, Senior Brewer at Shepherd Neame. It was brewed just over 12 months ago using a blend of five malts and five Kentish hops in celebration of the fifth generation of the Neame family to own the business. It has then been matured at the brewery for twelve months before being bottled, wrapped and sealed into it’s wooden case, there to lie in wait until the next lucky drinker comes along to release it in all it’s glory.

So what of the beer out of the bottle I hear you impatiently cry?

Well the crown cap fizzes with the escape of light carbonation as it’s cracked. Generation Ale, free at last from its wooden casket, careful sealed tissue wrap and dark brown embossed glass bottle pours silky smooth into the glass, settling in the colour revealed as a dark ruby brown topped with thin open head.

The first smells are of light burnt toffee, stewed winter fruits with an underpinning of booziness, this is a little too cool though and may develop. The first taste, it’s fresh and light with a pleasant amount of carbonation, the flavours are fruity, a sort of candied fruitiness dancing across the taste buds.

It’s warming now and developing with each sip, that fruit is pears maybe caramelised pears with hints of creamy chocolate. Quite out of nowhere there is a really powerful black pepper note, lots of pepper developing in aroma too with heady sweet pears in the beginning fading fast as the pepper builds.

The beer begins lightly carbonated when first poured but that quickly drops away in the glass leaving a full on mouth coating feel that turns almost brandy like as the glass warms it in the palm of your hand. Once downed it leaves a bitter black liquorice aftertaste with a warming alcohol burn that goes right down the throat into your belly, that bitterness is long-lasting and dwells on the tongue for a good while.

As you’ll see from the video later Stewart recommends pairing this with a nice creamy cheese, I opted for a Snowdonia Black Bomber extra mature cheddar. It has a strong cheddar bite but is really creamy in the mouth too which went wonderfully well with the ale.

I’d love to have a another bottle or two to hide away for a few years to see how the flavours  develop, they are really complex now and change often as you drink your way through the 750ml bottle. I’m not sure if that is something in the pipeline for Shepherd Neame as this was a beer designed for a specific occasion, but I’d love to see this develop into a range not dissimilar to Fullers Vintage Ales.

To close I’ve attached a video link to a review recorded by Simon of The Real Ale Guide, he just happened to be visiting the brewery when Generation Ale was in progress.

In it he chats to brewer Stewart Main who explains the concept behind the beer and how he created it. Both get to taste the beer direct from the tank in its final stages of maturation, lucky blighters… 😉

As far as I know this the first review of the finished article ever so that’s quite exciting in itself as I’m sure it will not be the last. Cheers

Eskdale via Hawkshead & Victory Breweries

We took a short weekend break to Cumbria this weekend, destination The Woolpack Inn and the village of Boot in the Eskdale valley. It’s around a two and a half hour drive from Stoke with the options of a safe but longer route around the south of Lake Windermere, or a shorter and for the more adventurous, the route around the top of Windermere, then taking on the often treacherous Wrynose and Hardknott Passes.

Always up for a challenge and being a lover of all things Hardknott, we went for the latter. During the planning stages I noticed that our journey took us to within four miles of The Hawkshead Brewery and Beerhall, they had beer, good food and most importantly were “dog friendly” (which tended to drive most of our decisions) all boxes ticked, RESULT.

The brewery is located in the little village of Staveley not Hawkshead as the name may suggest, nestled in the middle of a small industrial estate is this little gem of a place.

The all new shiny beer hall looks to have been an addition to the older brewery main building, it compliments it perfectly though and clearly been built with large amounts of visitors in mind having loads of parking and plenty of outside tables too, although these weren’t in use as it was piddling down with rain in true Lakeland style.

Inside the beer hall it’s a large modern room with plenty of seating and a generous bar area where several Hawkshead beers were available. There is also a decent beer shop too with a good choice of foreign bottles available from Europe and the USA as well as Hawksheads own selection.

As I was driving I had to make a choice although I’d love to have tried them all, so I opted for half of the lovely dark roasted malty Brodies Prime whilst Mrs H went for Lakeland Lager which is described as “It’s Lager, but it’s tasty”.. 😉

I can vouch for the food to it was delicious. We both opted for the sirloin steak and caramelised onion ciabatta sandwich. The steak was beautifully cooked, buttery onions and a lightly toasted bread, Brodies Prime suited it perfectly.

Knowing we were calling in I’d made contact with Matt Clarke the head brewer at Hawkshead earlier that day, he’d kindly offered to meet us on arrival I just had to message him on Twitter and he’d pop around from the brewhouse. Sounds perfect until you hit Cumbria where all forms of mobile telecommunication ceases to work. Meeting Matt was going to prove difficult, I had no idea what he looked like so I couldn’t try and spot him. After a while one of the bar staff kindly pointed Matt out to me, but he was deeply engrossed in conversation with an American guy who clearly knew a thing or two about beer and brewing.

I’d taken a couple of beers along from our area that I thought Matt would like, Lymestone Stone Brood and Buxton Axe Edge, so I hovered before jumping in and taking my chance to introduce myself, thinking I would leave them to it and head off. It turns out that this particular American was not just a beer enthusiast, it was Jim Busch, Director of Victory Brewing Co.

Better still they were just off for an impromptu tour of the brewery and I was invited along, BONUS!

*Apologies for the poor picture quality

It was a brewery tour like no other, Matt asked and I agreed that he dispense with the normal beer tour basics, but it was then really interesting to watch Jim and Matt talking about brewing kit and how much things differed, sticking noses into this and that, generally getting excited about beer and brewing.

Twenty minutes later we were done and back in the Beer Hall tasting the wonderful Hawkshead NZPA, keep an eye out for this as it’s not currently a regular beer, it should be, it’s THAT good. It’s made using four New Zealand hops, Green Bullet, Riwaka, Motueka & Nelson Sauvin and is a real hopfest in a glass.. 🙂

Refreshed then and extremely happy we left Matt and Jim chatting away and set off for The Woolpack and the passes…

If you are in the area and want a haven from the normal touristy stop off points in the Lakes, I couldn’t recommend Hawkshead enough, even dogs and the kids are welcome. Better still stay in the area to take full advantage of the beers on offer, there is camping nearby and a range of B&B’s too.

Lastly keep an eye on their website for news of the onsite beer festivals, having sampled what’s on offer I know I will be.

Big thanks to Matt and everyone at Hawkshead for making us so welcome.