An Ode to Indy Man

No one could of predicted what was going to happen in 2020, that we would have to write off so many events and plans for the year. Holidays cancelled and, for me particularly, birthday celebrations shelved, with a promise that we will celebrate the big 3 0 as soon as we are able to. These things I’ve learned to accept but it was the day when I got a gut wrenching message from my partner Josh to tell me that Indy Man Beer Con was cancelled this year. Anger and sadness washed over me at the thought that the event I most look forward to, the highlight of my year, was to be cancelled so I rushed to Twitter to check for myself. I tapped into the search bar and there it was, confirmation that Indy Man would not be going ahead in 2020. Although I was devastated, as many people were, I knew in my heart that it was the right decision for everyone’s safety. I couldn’t imagine how you would be able to remain socially distanced at Indy Man’s resident venue, The Victoria Baths, with its narrow corridors and rooms packed out with beer enthusiasts.

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I first went to Indy Man Beer Con in 2015 near the beginning of my beer journey. My partner Josh convinced me to go with a promise that I could go on the Coronation Street Studio Tour. As we arrived at The Victoria Baths for our session I could already see the queue forming a snake around the front and further down the road. As we joined onto the back I remember thinking it was going to take ages to get inside. I had read before hand some hints and tips about attending the festival, including making a plan of the beers you wanted to try and which rooms they would be in. Of course once I did get inside all plans went out the window. Indy Man was a festival quite unlike any other I had been to so far on my beer journey of discovery. As I made my way through the various rooms I was blown away by the number of breweries there and my eyes were opened to different styles of beers, many of which I had never heard of. It was here at my first Indy Man that I discovered Mad Hatter Brewery and their Tzatziki Sour which made me completely rethink what beer “should” taste like. It felt like a door was opened into Wonderland and there was no stopping me, all against the back drop of the stunning interior of The Victoria Baths. From the glossy green tiles in the foyer to the original changing cubicles at the poolside and the beautiful stained glass windows in the Turkish Baths I could feel the history of the building. Every year it still takes my breath away and it will again when hopefully Indy Man can return next year.

There are many traditions of Indy Man Beer Con, a tick list of ‘things you must do’ whilst at the festival, but here are a few of my favourites.

#1: The Famous Fish Mosaic. You have to take a photo with the fish mosaic which is on the wall in the foyer. No one knows why people take a photo here, some say it brings good luck, but whatever the reason it seems to be one of the mascots for Indy Man.

#2: Make sure your ready for the cheese. For as long as I can remember Wild Beer Co. have brought a wheel (or two!) of the famous Westcombe Cheddar made at the farm next door to the brewery. At each session there is a ceremonial cutting of the cheese whilst a huge crowd of people look on hungrily. Then comes the call and it is a free for all of people scrambling over each other, hands reaching out to grab as much cheese as they can. I quite often got sent into the brawl by Josh as I always managed to come away with some of the biggest pieces.

#3: Take a picture in the changing cubicle. The original cubicles that are lined along the pools in two of the rooms are perfect for having a quiet sit down to regroup and rethink where your headed to next. I love that these are still a feature that The Victoria Baths upkeep, a reminder of the building’s history.

#4: Have a soft serve beer. Even though it is October and the weather might be cold and wet you must have a soft serve beer, usually served by Omnipollo or Buxton. For me, there is nothing more fun and whimsical about a boozy soft serve float on top of a crazy ice cream flavoured beer.

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It’s not just the actual festival that I’m missing this year but also the annual trip to Manchester to visit some of my favourite bars and restaurants. Over the years we have explored the beer scene in the city and have discovered so many new places, many of which are now our ‘go to’ beer destinations whenever we’re in Manchester. I love exploring the Northern Quarter of Manchester as you are never too far away from great beer, hopping from one bar to another within a few minutes. I will miss visiting the Marble Arch, unwinding by the open fire with a decent pint of cask beer, perfect after drinking everything weird and wonderful at Indy Man.

As well as the great beers, Manchester also has amazing food! It was at GRUB that I discovered Parm Star’s Parmo and last year I found Dishoom’s Bacon Naan Rolls, just the hang over cure I needed after a session at Indy Man. I also can’t visit Manchester without visiting Bundobust for lunch. The small plates on the menu means that Josh and I always order too much food and I have to order a Vada Pav!

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We had hoped we could take a holiday up North in the later half of the year, paying Manchester a visit whilst we were there, so that we could look in on some of our favourite beer destinations in the city, but it is looking unlikely we can go now. The cancellation of the festival, which would been this weekend, will probably have an effect on these independent breweries, bars and pubs who usually welcome beer enthusiasts from all over the country and acts as a reminder to support these businesses during this time.

I have some really great memories of Indy Man Beer Con and even though we cant make more this year, I am looking forward to next year when hopefully the festival will be back. I will eat at some of my favourite restaurants, visit as many tap rooms, bars and pubs as I can, search out the soft serve beer, and take a photo next to the fish mosaic for good luck!

Small Beers – Big Flavours

“Why don’t more places sell low ABV beers like this?” I asked as I took my first sip of Marble Brewery’s Petite Small IPA.

Fireplace at Marble Arch

After arriving in Manchester a day earlier than expected for the Cloudwater Friends & Family & Beer festival my partner and I used this a good opportunity to try some bars and pubs we had not been to before in the city. We decided to make the trip to Marble Arch, which is somewhere we had always wanted to visit, so we braved the weather and it did not disappoint. The interior of the Grade II listed building is breathtaking with a beautifully tiled floor that leads you towards the bar. The cosy fireplace in the middle of the room was very welcoming and after the walk in the rain I made myself comfortable in a vintage armchair whilst my partner went to the bar. During the course of the day we had both had quite a few beers so I really felt like I needed to slow down a little. It was then I spotted the Petite Small IPA and at 2.8% a pint of this was perfect for what I wanted. As I took my first sip I was surprised that this small beer packs a big punch. With such a low ABV I expected the mouthfeel to be a little thin but I was blown away by how hoppy and juicy my pint tasted. “Why don’t more places sell low ABV beers like this?” I asked my partner. It was then he pointed out to me that my Petite IPA was actually 20p more per pint then his Marble Pint.

Marble’s Petite IPA

My partner, who works in the industry, explained to me that the reason why we don’t see more beers like the Petite IPA could be attributed to the average consumers’ perceived value. When given the choice of a 3.9% beer or a 2.8% priced at 20p more per pint then the average consumer is likely to choose the higher ABV as they may feel this is better value for money. To be honest this isn’t something I have thought about before and it made sense, why would I spend more for beer that has lower alcohol content? My answer was at that particular moment I wanted to slow down after my afternoon of drinking and have something light and refreshing. I was then pleasantly surprised to discover that my pint tasted amazing for a small beer. I then began to think that to achieve a great tasting beer like this with a lower ABV then perhaps more hops have been added into the brew. With traditional recipes hops were added to help preserve beer however in modern brewing techniques they have taken more of a leading role to make up for lack of body as well as produce really interesting flavours. Many of the newer hops can be difficult to get hold of and are often more expensive.

Hops are not the only thing that can be added to a brew to help enhance the flavour and body of a beer. Adjuncts such as fruits or spices can add big flavour but these can also be expensive ingredients. Breweries are also using adjuncts to improve the mouthfeel of a beer and can do this quite cheaply by using grains such as oats or wheat. In January I decided to try a few low alcohol beers, not for any particular reason other then to see what they would be like and I bought the Dry January box from BeerBods. As I was making my way through the box I was amazed at how the beers had a really good mouthfeel and tasted great considering they were only 0.5% ABV. I noticed that these breweries were using more hops or adjuncts to make up for the lack of body and flavour commonly associated with low alcohol beers much like Marble’s Petite IPA.

Mosaic floor at Marble Arch

I would really like to see more small beers like Marble’s Petite IPA in bars and pubs as there is a market for it but I feel that at the moment these are underrated. There is a bit of a stigma attached to people who choose a lower ABV option which is something I have been confronted with before. I believe that to change the perceptions of the average consumer more eduction on low alcohol beers is needed. I think that bar staff should play a large role in this by encouraging people to try samples and discuss that big flavour doesn’t also have to mean a high ABV.