Craft beer comes home
Tuesday 19 September 2017
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These days, barely an issue of Ferment goes by where we’re not at one craft beer festival or another. Every single one is fantastic and special in its own way, yet all undoubtedly owe a debt of gratitude to the UK’s first dedicated craft gathering, the Indy Man Beer Con, now in its sixth year Festival founder Jonny Heyes recalls: “IMBC was one of the first festivals to focus on modern British ‘craft’ breweries rather than cask ale breweries. Before Indy Man, most if not all of the big beer festivals were CAMRA-led which often meant the exclusion of most of the the new wave of progressive, exciting breweries due to their tendency toward keg beer.”
Jonny says “We set out to make IMBC a celebration, a party really, where the main event is beer. We try to make the event a great experience or series of experiences from start to finish, not just a reverential tasting event catering to beer geeks, although that is part of it! IMBC set out to be inclusive, so anyone of any experience could come and enjoy it and maybe even try a new flavour experience, discover a new favourite beer or maybe expand what they thought a beer could be and what it’s for.”
This has been a conscious decision since the festival’s earliest days. Run by a team drawn from several successful local hospitality businesses, including Common, The Beagle, Port Street Beer House and Pilcrow. Indy Man takes beer as the bedrock for the weekend, rather than the be-all and end-all. Looking around Manchester’s iconic Victoria baths – the home of Indy Man since its inception – it’s easy to see the event has been hugely successful on this front.
The Ratebeer and Untapped contingents are present, as you would hope and expect, but they rub shoulders with more casual revelers and even curious craft beer newbies, lured by the promise of a good party in convivial surroundings. “The organising team is drawn from people who’ve worked in hospitality and entertainment, music and art.” Says Matt Gorecki, one of the Beer Maestros behind the festival
An amazing beer list is one thing but people need to know it’s a good gig
“Obviously between us we know a lot about beer, but it’s secondary to the customer experience. It’s where I think some people can slip up; believing that if you just put good beer out there, everything else will take care of itself. An amazing beer list is one thing but people need to know it’s a good gig.”
“But equally there has to be stuff there for the hardcore beer people, they’re the ones who help push the scene forward and keep us on our toes, and they play a really key role in driving the social media activity. Fortunately because we’ve managed to get that balance right, we always get a great lineup of breweries signing up, so it’s very credible on that side of things too.”
The venue itself has also undoubtedly played a key role in the festival’s success, and Matt is full of praise for its management. A (partially) renovated Edwardian bathhouse, the main hall with its high pitched ceiling is full of decorative ironwork, the venue really plays it own part in the special atmosphere of the event.
“The venue is a bit of a wonderland,” continues Matt. “Every year, we get a little bigger and they manage to find some intriguing new space for us. We’re using more of the venue than ever before in 2017, so I’m not sure how we’re going to eke out any extra space for 2018!” One solution this year has been to involve more of the city in the festival fun aka #IMBC17FRINGE.
Drawing parallels with events such as Mikkeller Beer Week, The Indy Man team have worked with friends across the city to curate a programme of full bar takeovers and other events with local pubs and bars; something they see expanding over the coming years. “It's hard to talk about Manchester without trotting out all the usual clichés.
But it really is a creative, inclusive place and I’m not sure the festival would have the same special character if it was anywhere else. We’re really very grateful to the volunteers and punters who turn up every year to support us, as well as the local businesses and breweries who make the festival what it is.
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