Tuesday, 16 October 2012

IndyManBeerCon. How Was it for You?

How was what? IndyManBeerCon of course. Well if you read some of the gushings on the blogoshere it was the best thing since sliced bread. It was awesome. OK. Was it really? Actually, it was pretty good and I can see where many with leanings towards such an event happening, would be impressed. It did a lot of things right. First of all in any beer festival is to get, if at all possible, an impressive venue. Most festivals fail on that score right away. Impressive venues are hard to come by and they cost a lot. This was an impressive venue. A gorgeous, partially renovated set of Victorian Swimming Baths; a wonder of brick and tile. loads to look at and no smell of chlorine. It was a fantastic venue. Awesome even. A major tick before a drop of beer had been consumed and most customers seemed keen to view it in all its splendour, gawping happily, beer in hand.

 Then there is the beer of course and this lived up to its promise, with a cask area and a keg area, each in a different swimming pool, one covered over(cask) and one (keg)reached by descending a set of stairs to the pool itself. That would have made disabled access somewhat difficult, so a minus there I suppose. The cask bar was set up in more or less traditional manner, with a bar and handpumps. It served a decent selection of beers, though as is the way of beer festivals, some were better than others and the range was a tad limited if you were a fan of milds, stouts and speciality beers. Seating was German beer garden bench style and I thought that worked really well. It provided a touch of difference and helped the atmosphere. The keg bar area was another kettle of fish entirely. No seating at all and just a set of tables for several brewers to serve from, with the beer behind. Variety wasn't a problem here at all, with the brewers (and yes, it a lot of cases it was them) dispensing their chosen range. Or was it chosen by the organisers? I don't know. Either way it was different and it seemed to work well.  The keg selection was better on the Friday night, but as beers go off and on, that would no doubt have changed.

So from a veteran festival organiser's point of view, what did I think?  Well I liked it by and large. The venue and organisation was great. It did what it set out to do, though it was undeniably very expensive. Ten pounds plus to get in and prices from £3.00 a pint to £9 odd a pint* ) served in thirds is pretty hefty. Brewers serving their own beers was innovative for the UK, but I wonder how that worked? I know the beer was bought from them, but did they offer their services free for the weekend?  If not, subsidising the brewers may explain some of the prices, but if not, how sustainable is that model?  Brewers aren't charities by and large.  The food offerings worked well too for the kind of crowd attracted, which on the Friday night at least, for the most part, was young, geeky, well heeled and predisposed to the offerings and prices.  Some have claimed that the third pints only rule was restrictive and yes, it was a nuisance to have to go to the bars so often and would have been even more so if the place was more crowded, but it wasn't, presumably because of fire limits.  I didn't mind that aspect, though it could only work in this kind of festival with this kind of crowd.

BrewDog, oddly, had a separate bar, set in one of the many tiled side rooms and occupied by a rash of its fanboys and girls, with loud music and an atmosphere that was totally different to the main festival itself. I don't know whose idea that was, but I feel it would have been better to have BD on the inside of the tent. It seemed to me they were on the outside doing what people on the outside of tents do.  Put them along with everyone else next time.

So we had that elusive mixture of keg and cask.  Some claimed that as inclusive, but I reckon it's horses for courses. Inclusive to me is way more than just beer. It does show it can be done (at a price) and that there is a demand for it and those like Port St Beer House, who understand the cask/keg mix are the sort of guys that can put on a show for a targeted audience.  And it was a targeted audience. I won't mention the beer. Others have done that already, except to say, while I liked a lot of the keg beer, I do wonder if the expensive ingredients that apparently justify the high prices, would be quite so needed if the beer wasn't served so ice cold and so carbonated that taste is affected. Anyway, I digress.

Should it be a regular event?  Well I think, as I hinted in my opening remarks that some commentators have got a bit carried away.  It didn't change the world, but of course it should continue if the economics stack up and demand exists - and I am sure that demand does exist. It was different and interesting enough to make it worthwhile and provides an alternative to mainstream real ale festivals for those whose boat is best floated that way.  That can't be bad surely?  I mentioned getting it right. I doubt that there are many in the craft beer world that understand their audience better than Port St Beer House.  They pulled off a good show by understanding their potential customers and putting the hard work in to make it a reality. Well done them.

Finally, choice is a good thing, but how it is offered is surely up to those that organise such things.   Let's just let beer festivals do it their way.  Their audience and their risk after all.

* You got a free glass and two beer tokens as part of admission.  Tokens were £10 for 11

My "What the HELL is craft beer?" bit will be coming next.


Curmudgeon said...

"Ten pounds plus to get in and prices from £3.75 a pint to £11 odd a pint"

Strewth! - no recession there, then.

I take it the event was a success in terms of attendance, though.

tabamatu said...

A good write-up, Tandy. The venue was an inspired choice and for me really helped make the festival a success - something different that had people talking all weekend. I note your point about the brewers being there not being sustainable on a larger scale but really enjoyed discussing their beers with them and welcomed the opportunity to do so.

I paid £7.01 for the afternoon session and tokens were also available at £20 for 23 which was a bit easier on the wallet when shared or used across two sessions.

Thankfully not too many beers were 3 tokens. I'm generalising but my recollection is that the majority of the cask room offerings were 1, and the keg room 2 (BrewDog had some beer at 3, can't recall many others - Stone and Nogne?). It didn't feel like an expensive festival on balance, but tokens can mask that a bit as you're not handing cash over the bar.

Tandleman said...

I appreciate that the cost was different for different sessions admissions and beers. This is what I paid for my Mrs though.

Sat In A Pub said...

Some mistake, Shirley? The Victoria Baths are a splendid Edwardian wonder of brick and tile.

Tandleman said...

I bow to your superior architectural knowledge. Looked Victorian to me.

Sat In A Pub said...

Named after the late Queen Victoria, but built during the reign of Edward V11. I've got the same sort of tiles in my hallway.

Phil said...

Following something Tyson said on his blog, I've been thinking about the whole crafterati/elitism/"of course it's expensive" thing. I used to work with stats, so I thought I'd check some figures.

The drinking-age population of the UK is just under 50,000,000.

Ten million of those are over 64, so presumably living on a pension. Some pensioners seem to do OK, but it's not a wild generalisation to say that people in this group tend not to have money to burn.

70% of the 40,000,000 in working (and drinking) age are in fact working - the remainder are classed either as unemployed or as economically inactive (I can go into the difference between those another time if anyone's really interested).

Median annual earnings across the working population - the level that splits the working population in two, with as many people above the line as below it - are about £21,000.

So, out of 50 million people who either drink beer or could do so without breaking the law, ten million are on pensions, twelve million are on benefits or being supported by somebody else, and fourteen million are in work but earning less than 21k. Perhaps needless to say, there's quite a clump of people in the low 20. By the time you get to what most people would consider a good income you're into the top 20-25% of the *working* population - which is not much more than half of the total drinking-age population.

This isn't to say that people on low incomes by definition can't afford expensive beer - you could say that if you can only afford one beer a week you might as well make it a good one. The point is that people on low incomes are much more likely to be put off by high prices - and people on low incomes are actually the large majority of the population. If you say "yeah, of course the prices are high, get over it" (not that anyone here would ever say that) you're actually telling seven out of eight drinkers that they're not wanted.

Sue said...

If you paid £10 for 8 tokens you got fleeced - it was £10 for 11 tokens on Saturday afternoon.

Tandleman said...

Ah. If I have that wrong, I'll correct it. It makes the beer at tad cheaper too.

Tandleman said...

Done. Taking your word for it.

Cooking Lager said...

Fools and their money are soon parted and all that. Glad you had a nice time. What I wanted to hear was how you wiped the floor with all and sundry and took no prisoners in the great craft beer debate.

BeerCast Rich said...

Great post Tandy - I think IMBC does have a future, precisely because they opened up seeking to do something different - as you said.

I read some comments on other blog reports of the festival regarding the limitations of serving only thirds. I must be well down the route to fanboydom, as it never crossed my mind!

Neville Grundy said...

It's difficult to imagine a beer drinking experience in this country that is so far removed from the mainstream. I'm not saying this kind of thing shouldn't happen, but it will remain a very elite way of drinking beer, and I'm not just referring to prices.

Tandleman said...

I think they set their stall out that way Nev and succeeded in their goal. Far better that than pestering Camra to sell keg beer.

Each to his own.

Coxy said...

I am a very simple man, I Love my kids, football and beer. My season ticket cost a fortune now and I just hope beer isn't going that way too!The clintele at my football team has changed to mainly middle classes and this will happen in the pub trade if prices go sky high, I would possibly have swerved it at those prices , which is a shame, football and good beer should be for all.
Ps kids are the biggest drain on resources and stop you getting out enough also.

Jonny (IMBC) said...

Thanks for the write up Peter, good feedback, I knew we could rely on you for a balanced summary of the goings on. "I liked it by and large" is about as close to an endorsement as I could ever have hoped for, and thanks again for joining in with our discussion.

I would take issue a bit with some of the comments, there's quite a few people banding around elitism and such words, which I think is a bit off colour. It may be niche and not to everyones taste, but not much more so than a CAMRA beer festival. And in terms of expanding interest in beer, particularly with women and them younger types then I think we do a reasonable job off. As you said, it's different strokes for different folks.

Phil said...

It may be niche and not to everyones taste, but not much more so than a CAMRA beer festival.

Both the entry fee and (more importantly) the beer, by all accounts, were significantly more expensive than a CAMRA beer festival. However inclusive your intentions may have been, it was necessarily exclusive towards those with less deep pockets - and that's a lot of people (see current post on my blog). Whether the people organising and running the IMBC thought of themselves or their customers as an elite is a bit of a side-issue, although of course it's nice to hear that you didn't.

Jonny (IMBC) said...

Hi Phil, entry was more expensive but it wasn't a subsidised festival, production costs are high and you had a glass, a programme and 2 tokens included in the ticket price, which in itself probably account for the price differential from a CAMRA fest.

I think there is a tendency to home in on the most expensive beers and dismiss the fact that we were at pains to make the majority available for 1 token, particularly on the cask bar. If you bought tokens at the best rate(£20 for 23) a pint cost £2.70, if you factor in the tokens you receive on entry this brings it down further. I'd say 80/90p for a third is probably about average for a CAMRA fest?

Phil said...

At a CAMRA festival I'd expect to pay a couple of quid at most on the door and pay another pound for a glass; £6 in is steep, even if you get a couple of quid back in tokens. That said, £2.70 for a pint isn't at all extortionate! But the keg prices sound high in just about anyone's language - and having keg beers there was one of the IMBC's big selling points, after all.

Anonymous said...

I thought the festival was brilliant, amazing venue, inspiring selection of food, relaxing atmosphere. I was not keen on the 3rd pint only option, but actually I think it really worked. I tasted way more beers than I would do normally and the lack of crowd on Sat afternoon ment it was no trouble to get served straight away. I spent most time in the cask room and as a cask ale festival it stands out far in front of anything I've been to.

I found the keg room a disappointment, I simply can't afford/justify spending £2-3 for a third. Had hoped that prices might have been closer to the cask offerings to encourage tasting both. I did try a couple of keg beers and enjoyed them, just didn't enjoy them more or less than a cask ale. Would love an explanation as to why brewers who had both cask and keg beers had such huge price differences.


Phil said...

One other comment, in case Jonny is in a mood to clarify stuff - one of the main reasons I didn't go was that the Website didn't make it clear beforehand what the pricing would be like or how many tokens would come with the ticket. There was a lot of nod-and-a-wink, all-friends-here, we'll-see-you-right rhetoric ("done our utmost to keep prices low", "you'll get some tokens to get you started") and no specifics. I didn't feel like chancing it, frankly.

Phil said...

I think I may be the only person in the world who still spells "website" with a capital W. I may stop now.

Fishter said...


At my local festivals, if they didn't charge upwards of £6 for a ticket (incl. glass and programme), then the festival would make a loss.

Also, one festival had very cheap tickets: £2 for an evening session. They sold extremely quickly but turn-out was poor, beer sales were low. I think people bought the tickets as a "I'll see how I feel on the day" type of thing, as opposed to shelling out £6 and making more of an effort to attend.

Jonny (IMBC) said...

Phil - exact pricing/token amount/pricing structure wasn't announced earlier because we didn't have the final costings well in advance, if asked we were happy to give a rough guide, which was to say it would be pretty much in line with Port St pricing policy. First go at it and all that. Also as I said it isn;t a subsidised festival as are CAMRA festivals, no sponsorship etc, so is clearly going to be more expensive for entrance, if you think day entry was steep, it was £9 in the evening.

Anon - lots of reasons the keg is more expensive, the most obvious being the 3 token beers in the main were 10ish% ABV. A brewer is better placed to comment on specific costs, but production, filling equipment, cost of container(specifically keykegs), increased shelf life, all I can tell you for certain is it costs us more, so we sell it for more.

Phil said...

increased shelf life

Should reduce the price, surely?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your response, I had a great time at the festival. The issues of keg price go beyond your event. I understand that a 10% abv beer is going to cost more due to increased duty, but is 3 times the price? I thought HSBD is an extra 25% on the normal duty.

I had thought the benefit of the keykeg was that although it costs a small amount it is more economical in the long run as better than dealing with losing expensive casks. Also thought that for the pub/bar a keg will produce less wasted beer and greater shelf life as you said.

Increased ingredients in craft keg beers is surely not much different to the level of good quality ingredients that a good brewery uses for their cask beers as well.

Appreciate these are maybe questions for a brewer to answer.


Claudia (IMBC) said...

Really appreciate your participation, Peter, and your feedback.

Thought I'd just share this link, which gives one take on the keg versus cask pricing issue and production costs. It's probably not the definitive guide, but it's a useful start.


We've received lots of constructive comments, which will ensure an even better IMBC in the future. The goal was (Jonny may wish to chime in) to showcase interesting, innovative, and (hopefully/ideally) delicious beers, to make that connection between product, producer, and consumer, through having brewers on hand to discuss their beers, and to highlight how versatile beer can be when pared with different foods, and enhance the flavours of dishes. Considering that the basic ingredients of beer are still only hops, malt, water, and yeast, it is a credit to the industry that many UK breweries are producing beers that excite consumers — whether positively or negatively (not everyone is going to enjoy a sour beer, or a chocolate chill stout, after all). Choice is a good thing — I concur with Toby that people can make up their own minds — and obviously, vote with their wallets if they don't want to pay for the product. Choice in beer festivals, too, is a good thing. Thanks to everyone who came to IMBC, we appreciate your support.