Birmingham Beer Bash

988543_504585336279325_346701567_nTomorrow is a very special day for some very brave, committed and probably slightly bonkers friends of mine, for they have done something that I have longed to do.

Last year changed my perception of what a beer festival should be like forever.

Commencing with Hawkshead who were the first for me who had opted for the all-embracing approach of good beer served how the brewers intended, be that cask, keg or bottle. Mixed with fine food, a warm friendly atmosphere and surely the prettiest location. Then I visited the De Molen Borefts Festival which had the most eclectic mix of the worlds finest beers under one (two) roof/s I had ever experienced, it and was my first introduction to bitterballen. Finally we saw the birth of IndyMan who for me still hold the bar as the UK’s finest and in doing so have a lot to live up to themselves in 2013, a fact I’m sure they are relishing in trying to achieve.

But the competition is hotting up…

This year we’ve had similar events popping up all over the UK which is a great thing, I’m not against CAMRA festivals in any way you understand, but what I love about the likes of the above and Liverpool Craft Beer Expo for example is that the thinking is different, a fresh approach without the constraints of a rule book which needs a bloody good overhaul.

BPypgP3CMAAJ7WpEnter stage left David Shipman or Otherton Ale Man as he is also known, father to Birmingham Beer Bash and leader of a fine body of folks of a similar mind. Reading back over Dave’s blog you can see how this has slowly come together after a lot of hard work, scary meetings and dedication.

Having recently organised a much lower key Twissup event in Macclesfield even without the massive finical implications of they have had to content with, I have some idea how he and all of the other organisers are feeling right now.

A mix of excitement, a screaming impatience and mostly, fear.

BOrCrd8CQAAs-8_Will folks turn up, will the beer be ok, will anything go wrong and a thousand other little niggles and doubts will be swirling around heads tonight and I doubt a lot of sleeping will happen.

Knowing these guys though the fears will all fall away when the doors open and folks flood in. The beer list they have pulled together is impressive to say the least, again with no rulebook shackles imposed so as to bring something for every taste and opinion. There are side events of break out seminars and beer/food matching dinners etc too. Finally the guys have brought street food vendors of various cooking styles in house for those of you who’d prefer to munch as you go. Check the bookable sessions out here and here.

I have tickets for the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon sessions personally, so if you are about come and say hello, lets drink beer and support what promises to be a brilliant weekend of beer.

If you’ve not yet got tickets you need to act fast, some sessions are already sold out and you REALLY don’t want to miss this one. Tickets available here ->

BP9AsDgCAAQ-R4QBirmingham Beer Bashers, I salute you and wish you the very best of luck.

CHEERS!!

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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.