Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Things Go Swimmingly at the Baths

Take a wonderful venue like Victoria Baths, with its tiled splendour offset by decay that has not yet been reversed by renovation and you have a star that possibly outshines any hirer and indeed, makes you wonder  in the conext of IndyManBeerCon, if the venue  is the event and whether it would be able to survive unscathed a change to somewhere less impressive.  There is something about wandering the three old swimming pools, the tiled corridors and the ornate splendour augmented by subdued lighting that makes you feel well disposed to the place and therefore well disposed to whatever is being hosted within.

There is little doubt too that the second IndyManBeerCon has captured many a youthful imagination and already there have been glowing reviews and a positive flurry of congratulatory tweets.  But what about an old cynic like me?  Was it all it was cracked up to be?

There was a change around this year with all three pools being pressed into use and a mixed bag of cask and keg together on the same bar, rather than separate bars for each.  That worked as well as could be expected and is in keeping with the way that the best craft bars operate, so no complaints there.  There seemed too to be less choice than last year, with the offerings being different depending on which night or day you went and a separate beer list for each night.  You had to like strong beers or somewhat experimental beer of just over 3%,  much of which was of a taste that you'd struggle to acquire.  Something just to drink at a modest yet suppable strength was like hen's teeth, rather hard to find.  An exception was Quantum NZ Light which while excellent is still no Windermere Pale, which is the benchmark for this sort of thing.  In my case I had to wait until the alcohol kicked in to be really able to loosen up a bit.  I'm used to pints of a lot weaker beer.  Funnily though on Thursday as I scanned the crowd, I felt quite at home.  Hipsters were few and far between and it was a rather mixed CAMRA fest like crowd that attended.  There were of course one or two worrying hipster proclivities in evidence, though mostly behind the bar.  E thinks she's spotted a new and unwelcome trend of twirly moustaches to accompany ironic beards.  I kid you not. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse.

There were plenty of people I knew which always makes a festival nicer and plenty of gossip too, none of which I can repeat here.  There were surprising omissions too. Hardknott Dave was there but his beer wasn't, edged out perhaps by even more trendy newcomers. A fickle business this craft keg.  BrewDog were hidden away on a main bar this time and the better for it.  Brewers aplenty served beer and talked about it.  It is one of the abiding upsides of this festival that it attracts brewers to work behind the bar in such numbers.  I wonder though what's in it for them?  You can understand a session, but to work at them all suggests it is either extremely enjoyable or that's just the cheapest (or most lucrative) way to do it.  Either way it's a strange one. 

Food was excellent according to a slightly tottery E, who needed to recover from strong beer and the place was pleasantly busy but not packed which made navigation easy.  Perhaps that's the fire regs, but hey, it worked. Prices (by token) were erratic to say the least.  A 4.8% beer? Two tokens.  A 10.5% one - two tokens?  Strange, but then I have no idea what the structure is, who pays for what, or who sets the prices. I'm equally aware that your average crafteratti is pretty well price blind, a fact that doesn't escape brewers attention. With a minimum price equivalent to three quid a pint, rising to north of £7, that has to be a given.  Certainly one or two more traditional festival attenders told me they found the cost a bit ouchy.

So what were the beery stars?  Thornbridge had a very solid set of offerings from Otter's Tears, a tribute to the late Simon Johnson, a soda water like Berliner Weisse and my beer of the festival, a10.5% Imperial Raspberry Stout.  I liked BrewDog's dark beers too, particularly Hello My Name is Mette Marit and the new Dead Metaphor was rather good too.  I reckon that they brew dark beers much better than they brew paler ones.  Magic Rock were solid but E lamented that their keg offerings lacked the taste of their cask ones and beers from First Chop and Cromarty didn't disappoint.  Dipping in randomly. you did feel though that in many cases you were paying for brewer's experiments.  It isn't that there were many duds, but so many oddities and at times, a curious sameness.

Some of the hyperbole is just that, but IndyManBeerCon was a lot of fun and is a "must go to" fixture, though it is quite possibly a little bit more of a curiosity to the likes of me than a line drawn beyond the rest of beer festivals - unless he means the new wave ones - as one giddy blogger alleged on Twitter..

And after third pints of strong keg beer you might just need a proper pint of cask to remind you that beer is something to sup as well as sip.

I'll be back next year though.  I had a great time with some really nice people and that's what really counts.


Andrew said...

We were there on Saturday afternoon and whilst there were some good beers have to say the the pricing was a bit ridiculous at times especially as you had to purchase tokens by the tenner and no returns, made using them all up a bit of a mathematical formula

BeerCast Rich said...

Ha, the giddiness had worn off a tad when I wrote that Pete - but I do believe IndyMan is a step ahead of the other single-venue beer festivals that are around at the moment.

Yes, it's quite expensive for beer, but as you say I'm (largely) price-blind, and am happy to fork over whatever pieces of plastic I need to for the beers. I'm still working on that moustache, though...

Dimpled Mug said...

Have to agree the real star is the venue.
I thought this year the introduction of cask + keg beers on the same bar was an improvement on last year, less of a "them and us "mentality.
Tokens - why not get more tokens for spending £20 that for £10 ?
The leaflet given out could have contained more info regarding the style and colour of a beer, i generally go for darker beers , but it was a tad confusing trying to find out which they were (if not named a stout etc)
Beer of the day for me - Kernal BA Imperial Brown Stout-delicous :)

Cooking Lager said...

What sounds nice is the description that it wasn't heaving, despite tickets being sold out.

A lot of beard club festivals pack 'em in on fridays so you can't get to the bar then have nowt to neck if you go on a saturday.

It sounds better managed than a beard club do. Might treat meself next year. I'll start saving up for half an undrinkable pong now.

Curmudgeon said...

A discount for buying more tickets could be seen as promoting binge-drinking ;-)

Cell said...

It sounds, reading between the lines, that it wasn't quite as good as the Leeds International Festival which got so much right this year.

Not too much blogging about that, unfortunately.

Perhaps it'll be trendy next year? Leeds Town Hall may not hold a candle to Victorian baths, but it wasn't too shabby, either.

Phil said...

A 4.8% beer? Two tokens. A 10.5% one - two tokens?

How much was one token & what was the standard dispense - a third?

The range sounds oddly narrow (I'm intrigued by "a curious sameness"). When I'm at a beer fest I always programme in a few lower-strength halves, just to settle down for a bit of beer drinking in among the sampling. Sounds like I would have been struggling.

Magic Rock were solid but E lamented that their keg offerings lacked the taste of their cask ones

I don't think I've ever been more disappointed by a beer than I was by Cannonball on keg. Curious - wow! High Wire - wow!!! Cannonball - yeah, it's OK, quite nice.

as you had to purchase tokens by the tenner and no returns

Dear oh dear - I grumbled about this one a bit back with regard to a local festival, & was reassured that CAMRA won't sponsor a fest unless you can cash in your (unspent) tokens at the end of the night. Obviously CAMRA weren't involved in this one, what with half (or more?) of the beer being 'unreal', but I think the organisers could have taken a leaf out of their book.

Barry said...

I actually thought there were plenty of session strength beers. 17 out of 75 by my calculation. Perhaps just not ones to your palate? More of an issue was the non refundable tokens.

Benjamin Nunn said...

Hmm, none of the blogs about this event have really sold it to me, and I was umming and ahhing about heading Oop North to check it out this time.

(But then I'm a full pint cask-oriented ticker, so possibly not really the target market).

While I agree with Tandleman on most issues, I just can't get this 'cask is for supping, keg is for sipping' stuff.

For me, the real advantage of keg is that it's more likely to be more cold and refreshing than cask. The times I want cold and refreshing is when I'm thirsty and desperate to pour it down my throat in great quantities. OTOH, 'sipping' beer seems to me to be stuff that is stronger, and I don't mind it being a bit warmer.

So I guess I have completely the opposite view of the role of cask and keg. I'm completely baffled as to why 11% cocoa nib stout-type beers keep showing up in keg form.

Unit Blog said...

I'm not sure anyone's saying keg is for sipping. Crazy-strength, crazy-additives beer is for sipping - and it often makes more sense, economically speaking, to put it in kegs than casks. AFAIC keg is for wondering how much better it would have been on cask.

Phil said...

Oops, wrong ID - last comment was me.

John Clarke said...

I think almost any stout (from standard to imperial, straight or flavoured) will always be better on cask.

As for IMBC I think it was an excellent event on all counts and certainly kicked the ass of almost any comparable events held so far.

Tandleman said...

It was good, just not as good as some make out. I think you'll find some pertinent comments above and on Tyson' s blog.

Kick arse comments some of them. :-)

Tandleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it. And said so. I think though, that you have hit the nail on the head in a couple of respects. 1)The venue is the true star, and
2)"I had a great time with some really nice people and that's what really counts." Couldn't have put it better. I spent so much time chatting with my buddies, with yourself, E and Matt (Privateer) that I almost forgot to drink!

The other key thing for me was the ability to just chat, without the need for shouting.

Quite looking forward now to The Velodrome!