So little time and so much good beer. And nice people. In an amazing venue. That could’ve been our entire recap of this year’s Independent Manchester Beer Convention. But that wouldn’t fair. Having impressed beer drinkers from near and far in the previous years, the Indy Man Beer Con was out to do it again. And we were thirsty to be there. We took a train up for the early Saturday session to drink, chat and soak it all in.

indy man beer con 2014

We found ourselves in the basement underneath Victoria Baths. Above us large groups of happy beer fans were busy pouring a vast quantity of delicious brews into their faces. The basement had a hint of the sort of place where you’d expect to find someone skinning someone. Instead on this day you found a gang of beer fans, huddled together in a small damp room, listening intently to people speaking about beer. This was a part of the talks put on by the nice people behind the festival, and they’d invited us to come along. In the first room a Danish man was speaking about darkness. The man was Mads Mortensen, sent to the festival to represent the Danish brewery To Øl, and the darkness he was talking about was their black coffee imperial IPA Black Malts & Body Salts. It’s strong, a full 9.9%, and seriously tasty. It was a good way to start our little trip to Manchester. Drinking hard and early is essential when you’re there for only one session. The journey through the basement carried on to a room where a bearded chap by the name of Gordon McKenzie, brewer at Siren Craft Brew, was talking about another bit of epic darkness – their imperial stout Even More Jesus. This one aged in bourbon barrels. Another seriously strong beer that has become a classic. It was first brewed by Siren’s head brewer Ryan Witter-Merithew for Evil Twin. This is the eighth iteration of it, and its thick dark licorice-like liquid is dangerous, delicious and sexy. I would like this on a drip.

Even more jesus

Emerging from the basement we were already on our way to Merry Town. We filled our glass and started to explore the festival. Victoria baths is an impressive building. It’s over a hundred years old, and with its tiled baths, mosaic floors, stained glass windows and multicoloured brickwork it feels grand and stately, and not a place you’d expect to find a big crowd chugging beer. It’s unlike anything else, and it’s wonderful. Behind one of the bars we found Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the man behind Evil Twin Brewing. He’d brought a range of his beers over the pond for our pleasure. One highlight was his Femme Fatale Kabosu, an IPA brewed with brettanomyces. Kabosu is a Japanese citrus fruit, similar to yuzu. You can trust Evil Twin to be at the forefront of using curious culinary ingredients in his beers, with much success. Like his Imperial Doughnut Break, which was also available – an 11.5% imperial porter brewed with a culinary highlight – the doughnut. Real doughnuts. It’s a sweet festival of joy in your mouth.

Evil twin at IMBC

We reached out to a few brewers via email to get their view on the festival. This is what happens when you’re just happy to be drunk and forget to do any actual work while there. Jeppe told us that he was really impressed with the execution of the festival. “The relaxing set-up combined with the awesome setting just made it an enjoyable unique festival experience.” He was also praising the beer from Brew By Numbers. They were on the same bar, and Tom Hutchings and Dave Seymour, founders and brewers at Brew By Numbers, were also really enjoying the atmosphere of the festival. “The location was epic! I would happily just wander around that place for hours – being able to do it with an awesome beer and pie in each hand, really elevated it to being one of the best beer festivals I’ve attended.” Tom told us. Dave also thought that the festival had the perfect number of visitor, so it never got too busy or crazy. “It made it really relaxed and easy to chat.” Their beer highlights consisted of the Villainous Vienna IPA by Magic Rock and the Earl Grey sour by Beavertown.

IMBC 2014

In the next room we bumped into Mads from To Øl again. He was manning their tapping station and I immediately went for their Fuck Art – This is Advertising, a big bad ass Belgian quad, aged on red wine barrels. My strategy is usually to try some of the stronger beers to start with, to better gauge my drunkenness level. Mads was shitting on this strategy and pointed out that it would probably ruin my taste buds. He’s probably right. He was also a big fan of the relaxed atmosphere of the festival, and the amazing venue. When asked about his beer highlight of the festival his reply was “tough call, but Siren’s Calypso was fantastic.”

In the same room we also had a brief encounter with Colin Stronge, head brewer at Buxton Brewery. He was there with the rest of his brewing team. I think they hit it hard, because afterwards Colin told us that he’d had fun, but it had got a bit overindulgent. That’s the spirit. He was also a fan of the social nature of the festival. “The things I enjoyed most were chatting to other brewers, especially the guys from abroad, and the chance to catch up with folks we don’t get to see as often as we’d like.” His favourite beer from the festival was a toss up between Hoppin’ Frog Boris The Crusher or the Kopikat by Summer Wine. Both outstanding imperial stouts, which might explain the overindulgence Colin mentioned.

Indy man beer con 2014

The last brewer we sought out to get his insights about the festival was Gordon from Siren. He’s a familiar face to us now, and we’re always keen to tap his brain for beer based information. He reckons that IMBC does a good job of including the entire UK beer scene. “It is the best festival in the UK for representing the whole of the British scene. Even stuff like Cromarty and the guys from the Hanging Bat were there and it’s really nice to see breweries north of the border getting the recognition they deserve.” That said, the beer he was the happiest to drink there was the Italian Loverbeer Madamin. “It’s been a beer I’ve really enjoyed for a while and was really instrumental for me when I was starting to “get” sour beer.” He also the Summer Wine and IMBC collaboration beer Twiggy. “They took an American style IPA recipe, but used British yeast and hops. I think that the idea should be explored more.

Indy man beer con

It’s a crying shame that we were only there for one session. Time flew by. There were so many things from the festival that we didn’t get to check out – the food (we only inhaled a mediocre burger and hot dog), the music, the talks a hell of a lot of beer. Ah well. Before we left the festival Jeremy from Beavertown was kind enough to exchange my last tokens for a good few of their cans – you know, train beers. We’d arranged to meet up with some long lost friends before the train journey home, so we stumbled into town and found them in a bar. This was yet another project where we didn’t have enough time. Next year Manchester, next year, we’re staying the night. God damn it.

Photos by Josh Smith