IMBCity 2019

It’s been a week since Indy Man Beer Con opened it’s doors this year I am reminded why it has been my 5th visit to one of the UK’s largest beer festivals. To start with the venue is stunning. From the iconic green tiles to the stained glass windows (not to mention that infamous fish mosaic!) you get a real feel of the history of the building and I still can never get over being stood drinking beer in an empty swimming pool! Set within the beautiful backdrop of the baths is a huge range of amazing breweries from around the UK and Internationally showcasing some incredible beers. I’ve given up trying to plan what beers I’d like to try beforehand as when I get there the list always goes out the window!

But its not just Indy Man Beer Con that draws me to Manchester for a long weekend, I also like to take 1 or 2 days to explore the rest of the local beer scene. Living in the South West of the country means I don’t often see beers from the North so when I’m in Manchester for IMBC I make a point of visiting as many places as I can squeeze in during my trip. It’s really important to me to visit the area around a beer festival to show support for the local bars/pubs and brewery taps. I generally have to travel a fair distance to get to beer festivals or events around the country so its nice to be able to make a trip of it and stay a few nights so that I can find out what else is happening in the local area. With many popular venues around Manchester hosting fringe events its a good excuse to go out there and discover somewhere new as well as pop in on some old haunts. This year I had a few old favourites on my list to visit, first of which was the Port Street Beer House which we visited a couple times as they held a few different tap take overs during the fringe. To break up the volume of keg beer that was drank during the festival it was worth the trip to the infamous Marble Arch where you know you can get a great tasting and well kept cask beer. No trip up North is complete without having lunch at Bundobust where we always get excited and order too much food, including the iconic Vada Pav. But when the menu is so authentic and the food tastes amazing its hard not to.

I also really enjoyed discovering a few new places in Manchester this time around such as Beer Nouveau where we received a really warm welcome from Steve and drank a few pints with a some of the regulars. Just round the corner from our hotel was The Crown and Kettle which had such a buzzy atmosphere and boasted a great range of keg as well as cask beers that you can see why this pub is a real hit with the locals. If you need a good breakfast to cure that IMBC hangover then I can I highly recommend going to Dishoom for the double bacon naan! I definitely think that there has been a few more places added to my favourites list for future visits to Manchester.

As we raise a beer and say goodbye to another year of Indy Man I look back and reflect on what a great time I had at the festival. I also think about the amazing time I had at the local fringe events, the people I’ve met and the great beers I’ve drank. Until next year Manchester!

Summer of 2018 – The Year of the Lager

The Summer of 2018 will be remembered for many things. We cheered on the England football team in this year’s World Cup truly believing that it was “coming home”. We also had the Royal Wedding and to top it all off we had one of the hottest summers on record in the UK. But helping to celebrate all that there was one particular beer style that was on everybody’s lips, lager! I, like a lot of others this summer, have craved the light, clean and crisp taste of a cold pint of lager. In the Cask Report 2018, lager accounted for 65% of on-trade sales in the UK making it the most popular beer style in the country. This is mostly thanks to the macrobreweries but they have also given the style a bad reputation amongst beer lovers. Like many other people, macro lager was the very first style of beer I tried but back then I didn’t drink it to savour it. As I started trying different beer styles I admit that I did get put off from lager, finding it was a bit bland and overly carbonated. However this year I have discovered that more breweries are producing their own versions of lager to a much higher standard. One brewery who have led the resurgence of quality lager are Bristol based brewers Lost & Grounded, who since starting in 2016, have produced one of the most talked about lagers this year with their Keller Pils. When I tried this lager it completely changed the way that I perceived the style and has become a go to beer for me on numerous visits to their brewery as well as at home with their cans becoming a fridge staple. When I saw that BeerBods were doing The Lager Box 2018, championing some of the UKs best interpretations of the style, I knew I had to snap one up.
Inside the BeerBods Lager Box there was a selection of 15 lager styles from a range of British breweries, some well known and others who were new to me. A few of my highlights I enjoyed included Vocation’s Yakima Pilsner and Stroud Brewery’s Light Organic Lager (LOL) both of which were really light, crisp and refreshing which is just want you want from this style of beer. One of the beers that surprised me was Summer from ShinDigger which was packed full of fruity watermelon flavour. This was really refreshing and very sessionable, perfect for lazy summer days or BBQs! There were also some great crowd pleasers in the box, most notably Magic Rock’s Dancing Bear, Thornbridge’s Lukas, Tiny Rebel’s Boho and the infamous Lost & Grounded Keller Pils, all of which would be my ‘go to’ lagers. Whilst working my way through the box I did find that one or two of the beers reminded me of macrobrewery versions however I felt that this has been a great display of British lager and can’t wait to try other brewery’s versions of this underrated style. 
To finish off my summer of lager I took a trip to Berlin with my partner to drink the beer style close to its original source. Lager was first produced by the Germans in Bavaria in the early 19th century and the name is derived from ‘lagern’ (meaning to store). It didn’t take long walking around Berlin to find classic German lager. As well as going to bars and beer halls around the city you can also buy lager at street food stalls, which is where I found myself trying Berlin’s famous sausage dish – Currywurst. Whilst in Berlin I went into a couple of traditional beer halls (Hofbrӓu and Augustiner) who were serving a range of lagers as well as Märzen, a style traditionally brewed for Oktoberfest which can be read more about here. It was hard not to order a litre stein of lager especially when the weather was unexpectedly sunny with temperatures of 25℃ in October! There is no style of beer that you would think about ordering in litre measures except for lager. I thought that the larger measures would mean you wouldn’t have to order more beer too frequently, particularly in a busy beer hall! However I found that it is interesting to taste how the flavour changes as it warms up, much like how we serve lager in tall glasses in the UK and other parts of Europe.  
Lager is very accessible style of beer which is noticeable when you go out with a group of friends as the experience of drinking it can be shared. Quite often I find when I go out for a beer as a group we will all order something different and we treat the beers like Pokémon, trying to taste them all. But if we see L&G Keller Pils is on the menu we all order pints and drink it together. In my view this year has seen the revival of lager with more breweries tackling the style and making it their own. Lager has come a long way from the macro styles I used to drink as a teenager and it has definitely changed my perception of this beer. Now that autumn is upon us and the nights draw in we will look to darker beer styles for comfort, but we will always remember the summer of 2018 as the year of the lager!

Ein Prosit to Oktoberfest!

This year my partner and I decided to book a trip to Berlin for our annual holiday. “Is it a good idea for us to be booking a trip to Germany in October?” I asked as we were booking the flights. I, like probably a lot of other people, believed that Oktoberfest is celebrated in October to coincide with the end of the harvest. It wasn’t until I did some research into Oktoberfest that I discovered the true history of the Bavarian festival. I purchased a box from Beer Hawk of official Oktoberfest beers brewed by Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrӓu, Lӧwenbrӓu, Paulaner and Spӓten (unfortunately I was unable to get hold of a bottle from Augustiner), to get a taste of this traditional German festival. I also bought a range of ‘Crafty Oktoberfest’ style beers by breweries from the rest of the world: Erdinger, Tempest Brewing Co., Goose Island, Thornbridge and Blue Point, to try their interpretations.
The first Oktoberfest event took place in Munich on the 12th October 1810 to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to a fairground on the fields at the city’s gates for the festivities and a parade was held in honour of the marriage. The fields were later called ‘Theresienwiese’ which translates as ‘Theresa’s Meadow’ after the Princess. Today, the locals shorten Oktoberfest to ‘Wiesen’ after the original fairground fields. The wedding celebrations went down so well that it was decided Munich would continue to hold an annual festival and in 1811 a horse racing event began. Over the next few years more activities were added to the festival including carnival booths, swings, bowling alleys as well as other attractions. 
Over the years there have been historic events which have affected the running of Oktoberfest. An outbreak of cholera and war, in particular World Wars 1 and 2, lead to the festival being cancelled. Despite this Oktoberfest has only missed out on 24 events since it began in 1810. At the end of the 19th Century Oktoberfest was re-organised and beer halls (bierkellers) with live music were introduced to the festival. The first Bratwursts were sold in 1881 and in 1892 beer was first served in glass steins/mugs (bierkrugs). 
Oktoberfest as we know it today began in 1950 and is held from Mid-September until the first weekend in October. The festival is opened in the same traditional way in Munich starting with a 12 gun salute before the first keg of Oktoberfest beer is tapped by the Mayor at 12:00pm who shouts ‘O’zapft is!’ (It’s tapped!). The first litre of beer is gifted to the Minister-President of the state of Bavaria and then the festival begins! 
Each year Munich’s ‘Big Six’ breweries; Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrӓu, Lӧwenbrӓu, Paulaner and Spӓten, are the only ones permitted to produce a special Oktoberfest lager for the occasion. To be an Oktoberfest beer it must have been brewed within Munich’s city walls and must conform to Reinheitsgebot. Reinheitsgebot, which is sometimes referred as the ‘German Beer Purity Law’ in English, is a regulation limiting the number of ingredients used in the production of German beer. Large quantities of beer is usually consumed at Oktoberfest, as you can imagine, and in 2013 it was reported that 7.7 million litres was served!
After all this research I couldn’t wait to start trying the Oktoberfest beers so I started off with the traditional styles followed by the ‘crafty’ box. As expected the traditional Oktoberfest beers have similar flavours due to the purity law but there were one or two differences that helped make them stand out. Out of all the traditional beers I tried my favourites were from Hacker-Pschorr and Paulener. The Hacker-Pschorr Oktberfest Marzen was really sweet with toffee and nutty flavours. The Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier was not as sweet but was really crisp and more lager-like in flavour. It reminded me of a Keller Pils and was very drinkable. I found that the ‘crafty’ Oktoberfest beers were more hoppy in flavour. This was especially apparent with Tempest’s A Touch of Prost where the hops gave a real citrusy flavour. However my favourite of the ‘crafty’ Oktoberfest beers was Thornbridge’s Feallen as I felt it was the truest to the traditional style with it’s sweeter, caramel flavours. 
Today we associate Oktoberfest with Lederhosen, Oompa music, German beer and fun! Last year Adidas produced a range of trainers designed to be beer/vomit repellent, poking fun at the boozy side of the festival and this year Munich football club released a 1860 Oktoberfest themed football kit especially for the event. Since the first Oktoberfest the festival has become a big tourist attraction in Germany but it is also widely celebrated around the world. In this country supermarkets such as Waitrose and mail order websites like Beer Hawk are selling more German beers, giving us more access to these styles. Perfect for if you want to celebrate Oktoberfest yourself without getting on a plane! So Ein Prosit (a toast) to Oktoberfest!

Raise a Pint for Burns’ Night

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? 

The first line to Robert Burns’ famous poem Auld Lang Syne which asks is it ok to forget the old times? Traditionally this is sang on Burns’ Night, where a dinner is held to celebrate Scotland’s most famous poet. Scotland is steeped in history and it is often remembered with their traditional food and drink. One such piece of history lies in their beer culture and whilst I was in Edinburgh I discovered the 80/-, or 80 shilling beer.

The 80/- beer’s origins go back to 1880 when malt and sugar taxes were replaced with Beer Duty. It was then the Shilling System was put in place. Ales were named on the prices per barrel, with more value on the stronger beers with higher alcohol content. The weaker beers were dubbed ‘light’ ales and the stronger ones ‘wee heavies’. 

The 80/- ale I tried was by Stewart Brewing who are an independent brewery based in Edinburgh. Whilst they are innovative with craft ales they are also brewing Edinburgh’s traditional beers. I was unsure what to expect from this style of beer as I have never come across it before but where better to try this then in Scotland itself. The liquid poured out a rich chestnut colour with close textured lacing on the head. When I took my first sip I noticed how the foam had a ‘cling’ much like a Guinness. Despite this the creamy mouthfeel was surprisingly quite light. I found there wasn’t much of an aroma but the taste of toasted malt caramel was powerful – well they don’t call it a ‘Wee Heavy’ for nothing

I think it is great that more modern breweries are still brewing traditional and historical styles. It shows great regional pride, much like Scotland’s Haggis and Scotch Whiskey. Whilst we move forward in the beer industry with new styles and processes, we should be reminded not to forget the history of different regional beers. As Robert Burns wrote:

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! And surely I’ll buy mine! And we’ll take a cup o’  kindness yet, for Auld Lang Syne.