Monday 13 October 2014

What's Up with IndyManBeerCon?

There's a great post about IndyManBeerCon by Phil from Oh Good Ale.  It tells in a humorous way his reasons for not attending this much praised and sought after event.  While I don't agree with them all, I can see where he is coming from. It is a particularly different type of beer festival to most and to some not at all their cup of tea. For many others though, it is a "must", which in itself must surely make it worthwhile?  Give the people what they want and all that.

One of Phil's main gripes - and it would have been one of mine too had I paid - was the £13  entrance fee which got you a glass, a programme and nothing else.  As I was there as trade, I didn't pay and glad I am too that I didn't, but I do know that many felt it a bit steep and that many more either didn't, or didn't care that much.  You see, for many, IMBC has become a place to be seen at. That's worth a lot to them as social cachet apparently, but then again, in the non beer world, there are plenty such events and while we may shake our heads about Glyndebourne, Henley Regatta and Last Night of the Proms, if it gives pleasure to attendees and a good time is had, I for one say "Good Luck to Them".

It was the first time I'd been to Victoria Baths in the daylight and while always thoroughly convinced that this event would be a lot less attractive if held elsewhere, I moved the dial over even more. The venue is tremendous. Magnificent in fact and the perfect backdrop to the event itself.  The usual mix of keg and cask seemed to veer more to keg this year and that's what I mainly drank.  Prices varied from a pound a third to £4 a third, with most somewhere in between and exhibited the usual bizarre differences. A 3% and a 6.7% beer on the same bar at the same price is odd to say the least, but then again, I have no idea how things are priced up there and who decides.  And someone has to pay for the set up, brewers etc.

So how was it for me?  Well, as always I find this kind of do a place to meet people I already know or know of.  It is the social interaction that I enjoy, the putting of faces to names and the meeting up with fellow beery friends that I only see now and again.  It may well be heresy, but the beer is rather incidental to me and I don't therefore sit scribbling notes about this or that beer.  I'm there for the crack and all the effort in the world to put on this or that saison, sour, or (yawn) collaboration, is merely backdrop to that particular aim. The venue wasn't without its problems though. The room with the food was too smoky from much grilling and the room with the ceiling under renovation was pretty gloomy, but both were easily dealt with by nipping in, buying your beer and retreating elsewhere to drink it.  The beers were interesting enough to provide talking points and were all well presented.I didn't find much wrong with the beer once you'd swirled some of the excess CO2 out of it. I'm guessing too that Manchester has a lot less hipsters, so the crowd was pretty mixed, with plenty of CAMRA types there also and many of then serving as volunteers. We laughed at one customer who thought a photo of three CAMRA chairmen all drinking keg might have been newsworthy (it isn't) and generally had a good time with beery people.

IMBC is a great event. It is all done on a very human level and for most of its customers it's a pleasure. Can't see much wrong with that really.  Nothing suits everyone and you don't have to go.

 One or two beers disappointed, but what festival does that not happen at.  Mostly though, these are beers for sipping, not supping.  That changes the dynamic  of the event too and one well known brewer told me his cask products were suffering from that aspect.

The photo shows the sort of shenanigans that goes on there.  I think they may still have had their trousers on at the point I took the photo.

I guess too there would be many more hipsters and trendies there in the evenings.


Unknown said...

The beer, at times, became almost incidental for me. I could have spent my whole day ticking off this beer or that beer but ultimately decided to just relax and enjoy the event. Rather than sticking religiously to my pre-determined list, I ordered whatever tickled my fancy when I was stood at the bar but still only had one or two questionable beers all weekend.

It's the atmosphere and the people that make this festival for me and the best thing about the Friday session was getting the opportunity to chat to so many people with a shared passion, yourself included!

I've rarely experienced this sense of bonhomie and community spirit at any other event of this kind (whether beery or not) and that's what makes it worth parting with my hard earned, although I admit the entrance fee is a bit steep.

I also think a little more could have been made of the cask at the festival. Keg was front and centre at every bar, while the cask listings were often a lot harder to see, which caused some people to miss out on some of the cask gems on offer. Siren's Empress Stout was a particular highlight at £1 for a third and benefited hugely from the extra body and lower carb.

But overall it was another huge success and credit must go to the organisers and volunteers for pulling off an event of this scale that feels slick yet personal. The wait at the bar was much shorter than at some smaller festivals I've been to and those serving were both knowledgeable and affable. In this sense, perhaps the higher price represents a higher standard of service and experience? But ultimately, we each value such things differently.

Rob said...

One thing that seemed odd about it is that there weren't many Manchester based breweries were there? (He says without having gone so have no way of knowing how brilliant or not it was).

Curmudgeon said...

Oh, that's an arm on the picture. Phew!

DavidS said...

I might be way off here, but re entrance prices, would it be fair to say that CAMRA fests are generally set up with the goal of keeping the door price down and hence making cask ale accessible to as many people as possible, whereas something like IndyMan has more emphasis on doing all the non-beer stuff as well as possible even if it means pushing up the door price a bit? I can't imagine that the Victoria Baths is a cheap venue, for instance, and they seem to have gone for relatively interesting food things where most local CAMRA fests I've been to have mostly had fairly average fairground burger-van type concessions who are presumably able to stump up a bit more cash for their pitch...

Re beer prices, presumably it depends a bit on whether the particular brewer sees it as a shop-window or just a shop?

Phil said...

Thanks for the link! What really put me off wasn't the price or the predominance of keg, so much as the thought of being surrounded by people who didn't mind about the price or the predominance of keg.

As a respected and influential blogger (ahem) I could probably have swung an invite for press day myself, and been surrounded by liggers instead. (Which in this case would have been a lot more congenial. You get a better class of ligger in the world of beer.) Unfortunately it clashed with real work, so that wasn't an option.

Tandleman said...

Connor - great to meet you and thanks for the comments. Nothing to disagree with.

DavidS: Again fair comments. The venue wouldn't be cheap I'm sure.

Phil: The trade sesh would have suited you I think.

Paul Bailey said...

My first thoughts were that the £13 entrance fee was on the dear side, but when you compare it to the £10 which GBBF charges, (and that’s without a glass), then I suppose it’s not too bad.

As an aside, I have a vague recollection of actually swimming in the Victorian baths, back in my student days!

Sat In A Pub said...

Well I snubbed the blogging love-in and paid my way like the rest of the peasantry. They'd have thrown me out of the Wednesday Club and into the local pond if I tried any of that malarkey. Anyway, it sounds like there was too much yakking and not enough supping for my liking.

Tandleman said...

It isn't a supping festival really though is it?

I sometimes think keg beer is so expensive because not that much is sold over an evening.

Sat In A Pub said...

You should know that Every festival I attend is a supping one otherwise I wouldn't attend. Of course they try to make it more difficult by giving such a small measure. However, as one of the lads pointed out, actually the smaller the measure, the quicker you drink it: job done!

Syd Differential said...

13 quid for a glass that doesn't even hold a pint ?
There really is one born every day.

rabidbarfly said...

IMBC along with Craft Beer Rising and others has never appealed to me. i tried to go last year but was thwarted by someone jumping in front of the train that I was bound for Manchester on.
This year it started the day I left Utobeer so i couldn't have gone even if i'd wanted to.
There's just something about it that makes me want to slap someone and i can't put my finger on what that is.

Phil said...

There's just something about it that makes me want to slap someone

Wonderful - best answer yet to the question in the title!

(I'll probably end up going next year and have a great time. Thirteen quid? Bargain, I'll take two...)

Yvan said...

It's just good fun. Simple.

I'm not a people person, I feel anxious in crowds... yet even I enjoy IndyMan because of the friendly vibe of the event. The people behind it are keen beer enthusiasts, the people who help out are the same, the brewers too - obviously. Birmingham Cubed has the same sort of vibe too... it's relaxed, laid back, and friendly. These two are on my beer calendar now replacing GBBF and NWAF really (both also good... but I just personally prefer the atmosphere and the beer variety at the new events.)

To be fair I do help out at IMBC too, so I get a few tokens and free session entry (I was at the trade sess too). So I guess I have a pretty different PoV based on that. Then again last year I bought "full fat" tickets and feel it was totally worth spending the money on the tickets & the extra on the beer. [It helps with the vibe somewhat that Kat and I have both volunteered to help out since the 1st IMBC and thus have got to know a good network of other folk involved. Everyone has their own unique context of course... can only speak for my own.]

Pricing: don't know for sure, but think the breweries have a hand in this. (Thornbridge seemed to.) What exactly the financial arrangements are I don't know - perhaps some supply the beer cheaply as a promotional expense.

Craft Beer Rising is an entirely different kettle of fish. It's really a trade show created by an events company ... there are a few similar type events showing up in the UK and they all have a similar soulless sort of feel to them. Not bad, I enjoyed CBR this year, but just not quite 'fun'. It is more about the business and less about the beer. (Thus we get folk like Greene King pushing their crapfty wares at these sorts of events.)