IndyManBeerCon 2013

DSC_0020bI think we can safely agree that the #IMBC2013 was the most anticipated beer event of the year…possibly in the whole of the UK. Crowds flew from all over and tickets for Thursday, Friday and Saturday were sold out well ahead of the event.

Undeniably this year was just as much of a success as last year and although everyone knew it would be, the IMBC team have achieved their goal to make it even bigger and better. I can’t think of a more striking venue to hold a beer festival of this magnitude in Manchester than the Victoria Baths. Then again there must be a few more vestiges of times past that could be put to better use and increased public exposure.

Apart from the venue however, the team have implemented a few changes. Instead of having a selection of casks in the main hall and kegs in the male pool, this time both pools as well as the main hall were used and each room was hosted by an established UK craft brewery. Manchester’s own Marble and Bakewell’s Thornbridge were resident for the whole weekend, Red Willow and Dark Star shared the one of the pools for half the weekend each and Magic Rock sent us all steamin’ in the Turkish Bath.

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Just like last year, out of the 18 or so beers I have tried (thank god for 1/3rds), I have genuinely disliked none of them. Here are my highlights nonetheless, for what it’s worth; the variety is such that you would likely make a different pick:

Birra del Borgo:

This Italian craft brewery has won Gold for us this weekend. The ReAle American Pale Ale was sumptuously creamy and full of fruity flavours, still managing a crisp and fresh citrus line all the way to the finish. Tropical fruits, malty sweetness, cleansing carbonation and quite weighty, all in balance… it knocked my pants off. Its sister, the Genziana saison probably won the trophy for elegance from all the beer that were tasted in our group. Genziana, or Gentiana is for the gentian root which was used at the end of the brewing process presumably to impart one last blast of bitterness but also very specific flavours in the same way hops do. Are there more “gentian” beers out there ? I also tried the Cortigiana on day 2, it’s also a Saison but fuller in body and depth of flavour, closer to the ReAle I thought.

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Mikeller –  It’s Alive Barrel Aged Chardonnay Mango

Mikkeller skills are raved about the world over among the craft beer geeks. It was my first beer of the festival and up there with the ReAle but probably even more unusual. It’s like drinking a very crisp natural white wine with the sour aromas of fermentation coming through, not unpleasantly so I might add, but with Mango fruit and a perfectly balanced body to give it weight. Truly unique but superbly crafted and very pleasurable to drink.

Imperial Stouts

In the Imperial Stout category I’m hesitating between the To ØL Liquid Confidence and the Quantum Imperial Treacle Stout. The Danish definitely made me feel like I was drinking a sticky toffee pudding (go figure) but on memory Jay Krause’s (Quantum’s brewer) was more balanced, as in less sweet and sticky but with more layers of flavours…if you see what I mean. This is definitely an acquired style and I have tried a few stouts that didn’t hit the spot as much. But it’s one of these styles that will match beautifully with chocolatey desserts or even rich gravytastic stews I reckon.

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I also picked up on a few trends in beer styles that seem to be, or will soon become, popular. It’s only my view so let me know what you think.

1. Sourness is coming. I have had a fair few sour styled beers this weekend and not necessarily by design. There seem to be more of this style being made at the moment.

2. The craft beer movement may finally succeed in putting beer on the dining table. Although my recent food and beer matching trial was not as successful as I’d hoped (more on this in the next post), the increasing range of styles available make it ever more possible for beer to accompany a wide range of exotic cuisines (see here).

3. There are some beautiful exceptions but overall the most flavoursome beers I have tasted tended to be heavier in ABV, on average 6.5-7.5%. But if you go for Mikkeller or Nogne Ø you will soon be drinking 8-10% or higher ABV beers as if they were milk.

But beer was not all that was to be excited about. The food offering this year was pretty impressive with Guerilla Eats in the driving seat. The fish tacos from Margo & Rita were superbly fresh and light with an authentic feel of Mexico, perfect to go with the light and zingy lagers or pale ales. The slow cooked pork from Fire & Salt was nothing unusual but high quality, flavoursome, tender meat in a freshly baked roll which will always deliver. My ReAle brought great fruity layers without masking the flavour of the pork and sauce. The beef stew in bread bowls went great with a fine black IPA. We didn’t get to try the Dirty Dogs but they looked pretty special so one to look out for next time.

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It has to be said that despite the quantity and the strength of the beers on offer, this has to be the most civilised beer festival I’ve ever been to. There is nothing wrong with the somewhat rowdier atmosphere of a classic CAMRA beer fest but everyone was respectful of each other as well as their environment and left merry and not completely sloshed. It helped that beer was served in 1/3rds which cost as much as a pint but at least it means that punters focus on tasting and savouring as opposed to gulping unlimited quantities of beer.

Bring on #IMBC2014 😀

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