I didn’t get to go to Indy Man last year. I was jealous. I was cold, in a tent (albeit a tent full of some awesome cask ale) and very very jealous. But I didn’t quite realise how much I’d missed out on until I found my way to the Victoria Baths in Manchester on Friday. Indy Man is an astonishing beer festival. It brings together some utterly amazing beers in probably one of the most gorgeous venues I been
The Victoria Baths is an Edwardian public bathhouse that was original built in the image of a “Water Palace”. The building itself is a beautiful piece of architecture that, if you ignore the hoards of beer geeks, really takes you back in time. Every corridor is different and each wall boasts beautiful tiles from floor to ceiling. Every room is breathtaking, from the intimate Turkish Baths where Beavertown made their home to the expansive first room with it’s majestic skylight that lit up the bar in a quite frankly divine fashion. Everything about the Water Palace is old and proud. There couldn’t be a more appropriate venue for a contemporary festival celebrating something with a history such as beer.
On arrival (after brief excitement over pencils) myself and Rowan Molyneux were eager to make our way the Beavertown bar where our most eagerly awaited beer – The Earl Phantom, a lemon iced tea sour – sat eagerly in it’s keg waiting for us. Alas, as we walked into the Turkish Baths, cellar folk scurried around Beavertown’s bar, still setting up. We backed out quietly, leaving them to their craft. Fine, we thought, let’s see what wonders await us in the main room. (In fact, more likely something like “Oh! Let’s go find something else fun” was said.)
We made our made up to the first bar in Room 2. Sponsored by Thornbridge, the main room also boasted food stalls and had a habit of smelling wonderful in a different way each time we entered. Immediately a beer caught our gaze. We eagerly swapped our first tokens for a third of Kiwi Saison from Northern Monk. Kiwi + saison… of course I’m gonna try this beer. It smelt like the inside of the skin of a kiwi after you’ve scooped out the fun bits. The taste was beautifully clean and bitter with a subtle hint of the kiwi.
Still giving Beavertown chance to work their magic in the Turkish Baths we made our way into the third room which, as well as some inaccessible beanbags, housed the Magic Rock bar inside the pool itself. Black curtains cloaked the roof making the room eerily dark as you stepped down the stone steps into the pool itself. The bar was situated near the stairs and there was an empty stage (presumably it hosted bands later on) in the deep end. Looking up from the benches in the pool you were surrounded by the old changing rooms. Wonderfully creepy.
I wish we’d spent more time in this room. I don’t get to drink enough Magic Beer and this dark eery room had a pleasing, chilled out atmosphere. I also found some great beers here. Magic Rock’s Pith Head (I still giggle every time I think of that name. Sorry.) was a very fun beer, smelt utterly like I was cutting limes. Sour, tart and very refreshing, a simply delicious brew. I also had Tiny Rebel’s The Full Nelson Chardonnay Barrel Aged here and I loved it. A fresh and fruity pale ale with a bigger depth of flavour from the aging. It had quite an initial fruity bite but as it warmed up (I was really savouring this one) it began to change. It became smoother and more vinous, leaving behind the bite.
After our initial foray into room 3 we made our way, with much excitement, to the Turkish Baths. This was defiantly my favourite area of Indy Man, the intimate little rooms, ordained with Beavertown’s beautiful artwork had a great atmosphere. The simple weirdness of a bar in a sauna was very cool and you couldn’t help sitting on the sides imaging everyone sat in their towels and… er.. wait, no. Don’t imagine that.
With the eagerness of schoolgirls myself and Rowan queued up for our precious thirds of The Earl Phantom from Beavertown Brewery. One of the many collaborations between the wonderful people of IMBC and the participating breweries, Beavertown’s regal brew was a lemon sour essentially “dry hopped” with Earl Grey tea. I’m really beginning to grow a love for sour beers and Earl Grey is already a staple in my life and with Rowan being a self-confessed sour junkie we were frankly giddy as we passed over our one and a half tokens.
The lip-puckering cuppa had an astounding aroma of tea, not so much of beer at all. If I closed my eyes I’d wonder why I was drinking Earl Grey from a glass. The taste was of tart sherbet-lemons with no sweetness to speak of. All the citric punch without the fruity juicy sugariness.
Another delicious treat from the Beavertown bar was the excellently named The Gose Strikes Back, a blackberry gose. I’ve never before had a gose but I was instantly taken with the style. The slight saltiness was lovely on the tip of my tongue but the succulent and sweet blackberries shined through. And damn, that colour!
Back in the main room one of my highlights of the festival came from a beer you don’t expect in the realms of craft wankers… an English IPA. Summer Wine’s Twiggy English IPA was another collab brew from IMBC and to me was the essence of a traditional IPA.
It had a great malt backbone, it was rich, spice-ish and summoned something of a desire to colonise. I imagine myself as a colonial privateer swigging it whilst looking out on the Indian ocean on a cool morning, my coattails flapping in the breeze as the ship’s cat nuzzles my leg. Several empty barrels of Twiggy take up space on the deck, the men are playing some kind of dice game, using them as a table. “Get back to work!” I shout, “and someone get me another bottle of Twiggy!”
Rowan sipped it and made a face. So, not for everyone.
In 1927, Ivan Pavlov experimented with his dog . He found that when he rang a bell each time before he fed his dog, the dog eventually no longer salivated in response to the food, but to the bell.
In 2014, the organisers of the Independent Manchester Beer Convention experimented with beer geeks. They found that when they rang a bell each time before a pop-up beer tasting, the beer geeks no longer salivated in response to the beer, but to the bell.
Every now and then during IMBC pop-up beer tastings would occur. Someone would ring a bell and attendees would gather to try an interesting brew. Whilst in room one I had chance to attend a tasting with Arbor Ales. I tried the Lemon & Lime IPA, a smooth and fruity 8.2% that packed quite a punch. Also the delicious but ridiculous (deliculous?) two year old Goo Goo G’Joob, an aged imperial stout. Damn. That’s all I have to say on that beer. Damn.
Not long after the Arbor pop-up (because apparently I was waging war on my tastebuds) we headed to a sour tasting in the bowels of the building. The cellar managed to be even more eery than room 3 as we descended the old staircase.
Beer-shop-that-I-want-to-be-inside-of, Beermoth hosted the tasting with a rare sour beer from Oersoep Brewery, God is Good from winter 2013. It was great to taste the same beer as a group, comparing notes. As the host said, “beer is a social beverage… it’s about sharing”. The beer was brilliantly complex, tart raisins and prunes. As it got warmer it became richer, smoother and moreish. A very interesting beer and it was great to have a group tasting but when you hear “sour tasting” do you really just expect one beer? I was hoping for a few to compare, I feel that would have been fascinating in a group.
There wasn’t long left to the festival after the tasting in the cellar so I spent the remaining time meandering around the building with Red Willow’s Timeless Barrel Aged, a rhubarb sour that did exactly what it said on the tin. Rhubarb, sour, fantastic.
Over the day I had really fallen for the Victoria Baths, it’s a beautiful monument to an era that has always fascinated me. And even more than that I’d fallen for Indy Man. It’s the perfect model for a modern beer festival. It focuses on the beer itself over the dispense method and the social aspect over all. The different rooms and different atmospheres around the festival make it a fantastic event for hanging out with friends, moving from room-to-room exploring or happily sitting, enjoying your beer and ticking to your heart’s content. It’s an all-encompassing festival and that’s what I loved about it. The beer could be substituted for a variety of interests set up this way and it’d still be a wonderful, social event.
I will be back next year without a shadow of a doubt. For the people, for the beer and –I’m determined in this fact– for the beanbags.