Imagine old empty swimming pools filled with happy drunk people. Now add some of the best beer this country has to offer and you’ve got something similar to Indy Man Beer Con. In its second year, this beer festival endeavour to invite some of the most accomplished breweries in the UK (and a few from the continent) to serve their beer in a turn-of-the-20th-century bath in Manchester. It’s a recipe that works well. We took the train ride up north to find out just how well.

Indy Man Beer Con 2013

My impatience to start drinking some of the beers at the festival was slightly restrained due to an impressive hangover. I had a vague memory of drinking barley wine the night before. We had tickets to go to the daytime session on Saturday and rocked up to Victoria Baths just before midday. It was a grey and miserable autumn day, the perfect weather for being inside drinking beer at noon. It was time to treat this hangover with some alcohol. IMBC uses a token system to pay for the beer, 10  quid got you 11 tokens. You got served thirds and the beers I had ranged from 1.5 to 3.5 tokens, so a couple of quid per serving on average, with little black tokens representing half tokens. It all felt a bit like a game, trading alcohol for little bits of fake plastic money. I got my cup of tokens and headed for the bar.

We found ourselves in Room 2, a big square room with food vendors at the back slowly filling the air with cooking fumes and smoke. The place was already getting crowded. When I go to beer festivals I want to drink the special shit. I can drink straight up pale ales any old day. Which is why I went straight for Siren’s Blackberry Pinot Noir Stout. It was a good start. Red wine and stout is a great combo, and with added blackberries, yes please. We had a wander around to check out the venue, and what an amazing place Victoria Baths is. Lots of rooms, big and small, and an upstairs gallery where the drinks could be enjoyed in relative peace. There was even a row of rusting changing rooms lining one of the walls, which later, as the beers were starting to work properly, was filled with giggling punters. Magic Rock had their own little room, just around the showers by the Turkish bath, complete with party lights and loud music. The whole place was buzzing with happy people.

Magic Rock at Indy Man Beer Con

Over the weekend different events would take place as well – talks, tastings and food events, but unfortunately the tickets to the Boulevard Brewing tasting, courtesy of Beermoth bottle shop, were all sold out. It was the only event available in the daytime session. The tickets must have gone in a frantic scramble as soon as the doors were opened. Later in the evening there was a To Øl talk that I would’ve liked to go to, but by that point I would be sobering up on the train back to the Big Smoke.

The selection of beer on offer was the best I’ve seen at any festival on these shores, featuring the regular elite of the UK brewing scene and beyond. Visiting just one session I only got to sample a fraction of what the festival had to offer, and still it was plenty. Magic Rock hit a home run with their Sour Dark Arts. I want this, in bottles, in my fridge. Lots of them. But sadly I don’t think any exist. Summer Wine’s Calico Jack aged in rum barrels was another blinder – full, deep and with a profound taste of old times. Maybe it was just the hit of rum but my brain was saying “I need a fireplace”. Weird Beard was present and their Five O’Clock Shadow IPA was tasting better than ever. Then there was also Kernel, with their spanking barrel aged Imperial Brown Stout. And Beavertown, with a refreshing and surprisingly musty Damson Sour and a barrel aged version of their Black Betty.

Beavertown at Indy Man Beer Con

A good few foreign breweries had shipped their beers to Manchester as well. Mikkeller’s Spontan Mandarin was the best sour I’ve had in a long time. The man is a wizard. He’d also brought an 18% monster called Big Worster, a barley wine aged in Chardonnay barrels, but I feared my liver would leave me if I had a glass of it. The inclusion of a few Italian breweries had caused a fair bit of excitement amongst the geeks when they were announced. I tried Birra Del Borgo’s Genziana, which was pretty darn fresh and had a vegetal flavour that was surprisingly nice. Who would’ve thought? Later I tried Birrifico Italiano’s Nigredo, a Schwartzbier which to me was very middle of the road with its slightly watery coffee hint. I also tried their Tipopils. This is a pilsner that has received a lot of love from a lot of people. I thought it tasted like a pilsner. Maybe it would be good on a hot summer day, but it did nothing for me. Dutch brewery Emelisse had also made the trip over, although I didn’t prioritise to try any of their beer. People were raving about them though, so maybe I’m an idiot.

Indy Man Beer Con

The big winner for me was To Øl. They’d brought a range of their brews and it seems like they can do no wrong. Everything I had from them was incredible. You know the feeling. You want people around you to try it. A lot of head nodding and looking at each other. Not many words. Maybe a little laughter. There was the Black Malts & Body Salts, a black imperial coffee IPA, their imperial stout Liquid Confidence, the eloquently named Fuck Art this Is Advertising, a Belgian quad, and their new creation Det Fide Liv, which I don’t actually know what style it is, but I would file it under the all encompassing ‘Delicious’ style. To my illiterate tongue it tasted like a delicious and rich IPA. If you can find any of those brews on your travel through life, get them inside you as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

Margo and Rita at Indy Man Beer Con

The organisation of the festival seemed flawless. There was not much overcrowding and happy bearded brewers milled around, talking to their thirsty clientele. I was quickly getting appropriately inebriated, feeling the heavy veil of my hangover being lifted away. This was greatly helped along by the food on offer. I had fish tacos and a cheese and onion pie, both of which were superb. Some of the more dedicated beer fans, who were in for the long haul, were complaining that the food wasn’t substantial enough, which makes sense if you had to eat a full day’s worth of sustenance there. But being a mere daytime visitor I didn’t give a shit. It was delicious, and it did its job. The organisers had also apparently recruited the help of some dedicated beer fans to serve the beers, as well as a few absolutely clueless fledglings who just looked at me when I quizzed them about what they were serving. The latter might’ve just been a consequence of it being the early session.

Indy Man Beer Con

Indy Man Beer Con 2013 ticked all the boxes. Good beer, good food, amazing venue – and all of it pulled off without a hitch. It’s a beer festival we should be proud to have in this country, and Mancunians can definitely be proud to have one over us Londonians. We’ll see if London Craft Beer Festival can match this kind of standard next year. Would I have liked to stay for longer and submerge my liver in more incredible beer? Yes. Will I come back next year? Absolutely. Before leaving Manchester we dropped by Beermoth to fill our knapsacks with a few bottles, but more on that in a different post. It was time for me to take my drunk ass off to the train station and sit on a train for a couple of hours. Thanks Manchester, be seeing ya. Cheers.