Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival

Well, it is over now and I'm just about recovered.  All the planning and hard work was worth it. We had 14,800 through the door, we sold 45,000 pints or thereabouts of real ale and all the cider, almost all of the foreign beer and most of the keykeg. In short, it went bloody well.

I spent the last hour and a half or so of the last session asking customers at random what they thought of it and most importantly if they'd come back again if we do it next year. The answer without fail was a resounding "Yes".

So what went well from my point of view and what didn't?

Went well:

Venue: Was superb and easy to work.  All on one level, everything dropped where we needed, all well planned and going from a vast empty hall to one filled with bars, stalls and thousands of people and then back to a vast empty hall again was oh so satisfying.  And people loved it. Everyone I asked was thrilled with the room, the seating, the ease of getting there and everything about it.  Even when at its busiest, it was navigable. The hall staff were ever helpful to us and they loved it and want us back.

Door Arrangements:  I was in overall charge of this area and it operated pretty smoothly. We opened on time, we closed on time, we got people in quickly and queuing outside was kept to a minimum. Nobody was turned away.  The staff there quickly formed a very cohesive little team and worked well together despite it being the coldest area to work in. Well done them.

The Customers: An absolute delight. From the trade people who cheerfully accepted things when we had a problem with cash (see below) to the old CAMRA codgers to the younger crowd on Friday and the cheerfully mixed one on Saturday, all were pleasant, happy and when we needed them to be, patient. We had no security incidents to record.  As always it was great to talk to so many beery people (did you know you can just about say "Beer people are good people" without having to stick your fingers down your throat?) and a special mention must be given to all my fellow bloggers who were a delight and not too pissed.  In fact no-one was too pissed. Nobody threw up in the toilets and there were no first aid incidents in the hall. With my H&S hat on, yippee.

Toilets:  Some improvement needed, but by and large they were kept clean, waiting time was usually short and despite a touch of insurrection over toilet gender reallocation, fairly laid back about (short) waits. On my trip round asking customer views, nobody complained about them, though I personally felt we needed more.

Beer: We got so many compliments about both prices and quality.  There may have been the odd duff beer but fortunately none came my way.  On my rounds so many people thought it was great value for money. The KeyKeg bar with real ale (fully compliant with CAMRA's definition of real ale if you were doubting this) was well received. The roof didn't fall in and we move on.  The Foreign Beer Bar had some great stuff too and I for one really enjoyed the brewery bars which seemed to be a roaring success. Brewers, assuming we do this again, my top tip is to get in early, offer your most interesting brews and don't shilly shally if you want a spot. There will be overwhelming demand next time.

Tasting Sessions and Great Manchester Beer Debate:  The tasting sessions, new to us were very well received. With a top team of presenters, well chosen beers and a crowd that made them so interactive, they were a delight, though surprisingly hard to organise, but (my area again) I learned a lot.

We've learned a lot from the beer debate. I was on the panel, along with Hardknott Dave Bailey, Mark Welsby and Jeremy Stull from Beermoth. I think we should have invited questions to the panel as we drifted a little into cask v keg and audience speeches, but hey, it's the first time and we'll likely do it again. Thanks to Connor Murphy who kept it all going.

Volunteers: Fantastic. Endlessly willing and cheerful. Perhaps most impressive was that the Manchester Central Event Manager thought them as good as any professionals at setting up and taking down - and he's seen a few.  They served willingly as always and it was great to see a lot of new faces and many younger ones.  A special mention as always to the stewards. they don't have a drink at all during the festival open times and they are the unsung heroes of this event.

Went not so well:

Not a lot really.  There was mixed reports on the food and if anyone has anything helpful to say on that, fire away. This was provided by the venue. Let me know in the comments box, what you'd actually like to see next year.  We were let down too by our bank and our security company over cash and had to hurriedly construct a token system in about fifteen minutes flat. It worked and cash was a problem to us throughout, as when you start with less than you need, you are always playing catch up. My own apologies to those that got their glass refunds in twenty pence pieces!  There will be a million other things too internally and we do try and improve each year.  There have been helpful suggestions in other blogs and we will look at them. We aren't stuck in the mud in Manchester and we'll try and do even better next year. If there is one.

We have to go away now and ask our usual round of  "How was it for you?" to all our staff and Heads of Departments.  We'll have to crunch the numbers and balance the books. Most of all we'll need to see who is up for it again and get a price we can live with.  Here's hoping.

Photo one is me with John Keeling of Fullers. John's a Manchester lad and was at the festival with two of his pals from way back. That's classy.

Photo two is my pal Erlangernick with the inimitable Roger Protz. We could have a caption competition here as to what Roger is saying. "Who the fuck's this is already taken."


Mark Dredge said...

I thought it was a brilliant festival. Great space, excellent range of beers and well kept, easy to wander around but also plenty of seating, staff were cheery and helpful. I really liked the mix of cask and keg as well.

Food was the only negative for me but I ate before I got there and left to get food at another bar in town (so didn't impact my drinking at all on this occasion). I gather this wasn't in your control anyway.

I would definitely attend again and encourage others to do so. Good work!

Anonymous said...

I loved it, as I wrote last week. Food looked good enough; it's just post-Indyman you expect something different in Manchester. Not a problem.

I hope the books balance and you're up for doing the same again next year. Beers at £3 and free entry for CAMRA members (which was pretty much everyone when I came in on Thursday)is quite a feat.

By the way, Roger is telling Nick the names of the 21 Sam Smiths pubs he can visit in Rochdale tomorrow.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

what on earth is Roger saying there, I know he usually charges five bob for pix and a tenner for…

Anonymous said...

We visited on the Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed it. Good prices and beer, plenty of choice of dark beers. Quick entry. Glass purchase and served quickly as well.

The only improvements I can think of is more gents toilets, although the wait was never that long and the food was not that good or cheap and not much choice for my veggie wife.

A big thanks to everyone involved. Looking forward to next years.

Anonymous said...

Food was poor.
Everything else good. Thanks to all involved.

Phil said...

This is going to sound like an incredibly trivial negative point, probably because it is - I'm not bringing it up because I think it's a big deal. (Look at it this way, the only negative point I want to make is an incredibly trivial one...)

Anyway: was the 'pub games' stall hired in? They had some excellent games, but I'm afraid I was put off by the prizes, which seemed to be mostly fairground-style novelty stuff. If they'd had a load of the random beeriana (bottles, glasses, pump clips, bar towels, bundles of beermats(!)...) which usually graces the prize shelf at similar stalls at Stockport BCF, they would certainly have got a couple of quid off me, maybe more than that. I guess the people doing the games brought their own stock of giveaways. I realise that a table-ful of random beeriana takes a hell of a lot of organising; I certainly wouldn't want to be the one in charge of getting it done.

End of whinge. I go to these things for the beer (and somewhere to sit while drinking it!) and on that front it absolutely could not be faulted. Batham's and Holden's in Manchester - when was the last time that happened? I've been interested, too, by the comments on pricing. Throughout the time I was there, I don't remember giving the price of the beer a second thought. This must mean either that I've turned into a big spender without realising it (unlikely) or that the beer was all, without exception, reasonably priced - which, considering some of the stuff that was on, is quite something. I hope the festival came out ahead & didn't have too much beer to pour away (top tip: if you call this 'free growler fills' it doesn't sound so bad).

Speaking of pouring beer into containers, at one point I found myself opposite somebody who was carefully decanting a third of something or other into a tiny plastic bottle, by way of a plastic measuring jug. I did not know people actually did this! Eavesdropping on the stewards was fun, as well - nothing like listening in on an earnest discussion of opening up through-routes between tables while avoiding territorial issues vis-a-vis chairs pushed back by more than 50% when you're tanked up. They did a fine job, to be fair.

Paul Bailey said...

Really gutted I missed it, but glad it went so well. Our branch chairman Iain Dalgleish (another Scot!) and his wife Carole, were in attendance and I’m going to suggest we have a branch outing to next year’s festival – assuming you’re having one!

BTW. It amused me to see Erlangernick photographed with Roger Protz. It makes a change from Nigel Farage, who was following him around Thanet last year. (He will know what I mean!).

Curmudgeon said...

I did think about the price of the beer when using the token. I had £1.50 left, so had to find a beer for £1.50 a half to avoid confusing the staff!

One trivial point, which is a constructive suggestion, not a complaint, is that it would help people make better use of the tables if an aisle could be made down the middle rather than having long banks with about 16 chairs on each side.

Tandleman said...

Nick gave him a euro for his trouble. Think he was asking for more.

Tandleman said...

Don't know where Pub Games got their prizes or indeed what they were. Camra run though.

Tandleman said...

We already thought of that but we may lose seats which is never good.

Tandleman said...

Thanks. What food would you have liked?

Phil said...

Mudge - when I was eavesdropping on the stewards they were discussing this very thing. Apparently there wasn't the space available to keep the number of tables & move them apart to make a gap in the middle - and if you take out a table in the middle all the way down, bang goes 20% of your seating. Edging down between the rows to get to a free seat took a bit of getting used to, but better that than not have a seat.

Pub games CAMRA-run? Interesting. Can anyone comment on what happens at Stockport?

Erlangernick said...

Glad to have made it (to the event AND into this fine report!) but won't have time to comment further til Wed afternoon.

DaveS said...

On the food thing - I wasn't at Manchester, but the hot food at our local CAMRA fest (Cambridge) is generally a bit underwhelming - old style catering vans doing gloopy curry and chips or generic burgers or whatever for prices that are pretty similar to what the local vintage van / "street food" mob will charge for something very much nicer.

On the other hand, I've always assumed that this is because CAMRA charge a fair bit for the food concessions in order to keep the admission price and the beer prices down. And since the general goal is to spread the word about real ale rather than offer some sort of gastronomic experience for burger snobs like me, this seems fair enough.

I might be way off, but I wonder if you're getting something similar with a comparison to events like IndyMan?

Stonch Beer said...

Great beer festival. Only went to trade session and was itching to get to Schloss with Arthur so left after two or three hours.

I found myself shaking hands with volunteers and giving them my best wishes as I went, because I really did think the whole event gave off a good natured, hard working spirit.

Can't remember much of what I drank - probably had eight halves - but the Hardknott Stout and the Brewsmith Bitter were the ones I enjoyed most.

Phil said...

The stall I went to was selling fairly high-class burgers, inna fairly high-class bun, with cheese, with onions, for a fiver - or pulled pork, same bun, same onions, also a fiver. Another stall was selling quite substantial filled panini... for £4.95. You don't expect burger-van prices, but these prices did seem a bit on the steep side. OTOH, I suspect the food at Indy Man is more expensive as well as more exciting.

I think the best food 'offer' I've seen at a beer festival was the one a few years ago which had an all-in hot buffet and, er, that was it. If you didn't like beef stew or chicken curry or veggie lasagne or rice or chips or garlic bread you were out of luck, but otherwise you could fill your boots.

So that's my take on festival food: if it's not cheap it should be exotic, and if it's not that it should be plentiful!

Beermunster said...

I was only there on the Saturday, so can't comment on any other sessions, but would like to give a big thank you to all the volunteers and organisers. It was one of the best beer festivals I've been to in years.

Really great venue. Easy to get to and given the number of people in the venue, it was really nice to be able to stand and talk to people in a normal voice without having to shout.

We never had to queue at any of the bars for more than about 3 minutes (or for the toilets).

Superb selection of beers, with a massive selection still on sale at the start of the Saturday session.

Plenty of room. Even when it appeared to be at its busiest at 4pm, it was easy to walk up and down the hall, there was plenty of space to stand and chat, and none of the bars were difficult to get to.

The only negatives (and these are minor gripes in the grand scheme of things):

The food was disappointing. OK, we're not there for the food, but it is nice to be able to grab a bite to eat. Just an idea, but I've seen some festivals use local take-aways (usually chinese or indian) who have brought in woks and then sell 3 or 4 dishes that they are able to prepare in a small space. I guess that sort of food lends itself well to preparing a big batch which can be easily eaten from a plastic or cardboard container.

There was plenty of table space, but could have probably done with more chairs. People naturally bunch up from where the chairs were laid out and you could probably get 50% more chairs in without any loss of floor space.

Erlangernick said...

On the food. I had two beef pasties on Wednesday evening, thought they were OK to good. Mudgie said his burger was meh to OK, IIRC. I had a lamb hotpot on Thursday which was quite tasty but then left me feeling a bit fatted & salted out afterwards. IOW, the food was OK for me, if not great.

On the service. I was there til closing Wednesday, and never had to wait long at all for a beer. And I was one of the unlucky ones who had to wait a few minutes for tokens to be printed on Wednesday. Didn't impact my enjoyment at all.

The terlets...as has been noted, more would be nicer, but I wouldn't say the venue suffers for the amount already there.

On Roger. I think he was wondering WTF I was trying to say in my unintelligble drawl.

On the beer. I had my own custom list of priorities, as I always do at CAMRA fests: milds first, ascending ABV; then bitter & pale, also ascending ABV. I didn't bother with crafty this or that except one called "session IPA", so don't know how good all that was, but I would say that I encountered a few more duff thirds than I did at Leeds or Nottingham. Or maybe I just don't remember the ones from those other places.

All in all, an excellent event, but then I've only been to three other CAMRA fests (Leeds, Nottingham, Canterbury), so what do I know?

Where was all the sexist, tasteless tat for sale?

Cooking Lager said...

Had a lovely afternoon out. Glad I knocked off work early to come have a beer and meet the greats of beer bloggery. Enjoyed myself. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. Not sure I'd cope with 4 days of it mind, fair play to you.

Rob Nicholson said...

Had a great day at the trade session on Wednesday afternoon so well done all. Only problem with a cash bar is that it's harder to recall how much you've drunk. Brewery bars are always good and give Indyman much of it's "craft" appeal. But why don't they have at least one rep from the brewery on there? Or do they and I just lucked out? Vested interest as I wanted to chat to a few brewers as it was a trade session after all. There were plenty wandering around drinking but not always easy to spot.

Cheese stand should supply plastic knives and trays so we can make our own cheese platter ;-)

You got succession planning sorted for when it becomes too much for the octogenarians?

Tandleman said...

Rob. Loads of brewers on the stands. Guess they went walkabout on trade day.

Cheese stand is a concession so up to the cheese guy.

Tandleman said...

Nick. The sexist tat guy was sacked off and the festival was better for it.

As for duff thirds, was there something wrong with them or did you just not like them? If the former you should have taken them back.

Tandleman said...

We had nearly 1400 chairs. I doubt there is room for too many more for stewarding and health and safety reasons.

We will look at it of course.

Curmudgeon said...

@Phil - at Stockport we operate our own tombola, with beery prizes, but the Pub Games stall is a different thing that is supplied by St Albans, presumably including prizes.

@DaveS - AIUI at Manchester the main catering was done by the venue as part of the overall deal, so it wasn't a case of CAMRA trying to maximise revenue from concessions. If CAMRA was in control of food concessions then I'm sure there would be more varied and exotic fare.

IMV the bacon cheeseburger from the burger van at Stockport was nicer and better value than the rather dry £5 burger at MBCF.

Erlangernick said...

Duff beer...maybe not so duff as just badly brewed. Bad recipe formulation. I honestly can't recall anything that seemed off as in bad form. So, not *duff* as much as a bit crappy. There were a few that I couldn't finish.

And that Bathams is just too sweet. That was tough. Get their mild next time?

Tandleman said...

Nick: Good. Not our fault you don't like things.

DaveS said...

@Mudgie - I know the catering was done by the venue, but presumably part of the reason that the festival could get the venue (which sounds great otherwise) at a non-prohibitive price is that the venue operators are making some extra cash off the food, so it basically amounts to the same thing.

Curmudgeon said...

@Nick - my recollection is that you were saying one or two of the beers were a bit home-brewish, not that they were badly kept.

No point in drinking Bathams in thirds - you need a pint to appreciate the long, dry aftertaste.

Brendon Hall said...

Maybe the abuse I got on the official CAMRA facebook group was worth it if it meant the sexist t-shirt seller wasn't there. Lets try to be a more inclusive organisation.

Curmudgeon said...

"Lets try to be a more inclusive organisation"

Ah yes, obviously the best way to achieve that is to exclude people.

Ed Lea said...

Great festival. Although food was disappointing it did the job . Roll on next year.

Phil said...

Also, no tombola (but see previous remarks about how it must be a sod of a job to round up all those prizes & I wouldn't like to do it).

Pub Games supplied by St Albans? Did not know that. I'm convinced they were offering more beery prizes (e.g. beer) the last time I saw them, but I may be wrong. I've never come close to shutting the box/shoving a ha'penny correctly/hooking a duck or whatever, so the point is a bit academic. All I can say is that I would definitely have punted a quid on the tombola, if there'd been one, & once I'd done that I would almost certainly have hit the pub games. Gateway drug, tombola.

James Brewsmith said...

We only managed to get to the trade session (we being Brewsmith team plus father in law) but had a great day.

Much better venue for me than the Velodrome - for all the reasons stated. Its just bigger, more space, plus its not a half mile hike for a slash or a beer from a brewery who's name begins with 'X' or 'Z'

Had some great beer, some good beer and a couple of bad uns but what do you expect out of so much choice? The short swan necks / can't touch the beer thing bothered me occasionally but I've learned not to care if the beer is conditioned well enough,

Best BF this year...



Brendon H said...

Pub Curmudgeon - yes, by excluding sexist t-shirt sellers. This isn't 1974 anymore, that kind of stuff just isn't acceptable these days. Whatever people say, CAMRA doesn't exist in a bubble outside of society. Last year's performance by the vendors concerned made me embarrassed to work for CAMRA.

Tandleman said...

Brendon: That's why we sacked him off and he won't be back.

Phil said...

For the record I had one or two I liked less than others, but nothing remotely approached 'duff'. In terms of the beer, this was among the best festivals I've ever been to. Maybe I just chose well (or luckily).

Tyson said...

The only consistent complaint I heard every day at the festival and afterwards in the pubs was the food selection. It certainly was pitiful for vegetarians but most of the complaints were from flesh-eaters. Obviously I advised them that it was down to the venue and to make their grievances known in the hope that they let CAMRA run with it next year. You only need a decent pie stall or one of the pop-up pizza or curry stands that festivals are increasingly using to vastly improve things.

Other than that, a very good first festival. Far better than the first Veledrome fest. The plentiful seating seemed to be particularly well received. Let's hope it all balances out in the books.

Erlangernick said...

Tyson, where you there? Sorry to have missed you this time. It was on my agenda to head to the Trackside, but then other things got on my agenda instead.

Mudgie, yes indeed a couple or three dark milds exhibited what I call "Folgers homebrew" notes, now that you remind me. Not sure how to describe it, but the mate that got me started homebrewing in Oregon in 1993 had it in his stout-ish beer. Reminds me also of those medicine capsules of my yoof, the kind with the tiny little balls of medicine inside, and if the capsule would dissolve, what those nodules tasted like instant coffee, in a way.

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

Protz to Erlangernick: " I tell you,this Jeremy Corbyn look is going to catch on in a big way. "

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