I was really busy last week working at the IndyManBeerCon, a festival that celebrates the huge number of artisan crafted beers and ales that are now being produced across the UK in small breweries. These beers used to be a tiny proportion of the beer consumed in the UK, the province of diehard aficionados. Now they are mainstream with people from all walks of life taking the trouble to search out these beers.

The IndyManBeerCon started six years ago and was the brainchild of a guy who owns a couple of bars in the Northern Quarter and one in Chorlton. I’m not sure where it started but its present home is the Victoria Baths, a short walk from the Whitworth Gallery on Oxford Road. It probably started out small but, talking to some of the brewers there, it’s now one of the most important beer festivals in the country. Brewers from as far away as Cornwall in the south to Aberdeen in the north of Scotland came to the city to show off their beers. Some brewers, like Cloudwater from Manchester and Northern Monk from Leeds were here for the entire festival. Others came and went so there was always different beers to try.

The three pools had been drained of course and the bars were set up in them, surrounded by wooden tables. There was recorded music in the First Class Male and Second Class Male baths. The Female pool was turned into a club with DJs and live music as well as the bars. A brewery from Buxton set up in the Turkish Baths. Another brewery took over the Pineapple Room (the stained glass windows feature the fruit). Behind the baths was a tented food village where street food sellers set up shop. There was a huge tent with a chilled Ibiza club vibe about it with more bars. And Northern Monk had their own tented bar.

You booked online for a session (an afternoon or evening) or you could have a weekend pass or a pass for the entire festival. You paid for that online. People arrived and brought their tickets on their phones which were scanned in the street outside and you got a wristband for your session. Inside you were given a glass and a map (I helped with that once). You then went to buy some tokens for beer and food using cash or card. Then you were off round the festival swapping your tokens for whatever beer you fancied. It certainly made life easy for the bar staff. I worked on the token exchange once and it was crazy busy. The bars were busy but at least we didn’t have to count change out. And we could talk to people about the beers. I was amazed how I quickly got to a place where I could chat about the beers with authority. TBH I knew next to nothing but throw in phrases like ‘double IPA’ and ‘hoppy ale’ and they seemed to lap it up. 

At then end of each session the people there (1,500 for each) just seem to melt away and the festival was tidied up for the next session. There was security. We had a very scary lady who went round ‘suggesting’ that people would like to go home and forbidding people like me from serving any more beer after a certain time. I certainly didn’t.

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