Words by Ben McCormick
A little over two years ago, the people partly responsible for dragging the Manchester beer scene away from its moribund self when they opened the Port Street Beer House decided they wanted to do the same for beer festivals.
Too often, they thought, such events were organised by people more interested in sustaining the status quo of staid, solemn stuffiness and Canute-like resistance to a tide that had turned. And they were semi-full of middle-aged, half-cut blokes. And they were held in featureless, drab, concrete civic centres from the 70s. In short, they weren’t catering for the new kind of beer drinker that gave less of a shit about tradition than they did about taste. The sort who were coming into the Port Street Beer House in their cohorts.
So in the ‘suck-it-and-see’ spirit that had seen them open their bar in the first place, and long before anyone else had thought of it, they set about bringing the best of independent, deftly brewed beer to their Manchester masses. In fairness, their choice of venue – a renovated Victorian public baths on the city’s Hathersage Road that ain’t that far from studentville – was a masterstroke. Close enough to the centre, on the doorstep of a good tranche of the festival’s target audience and a stunningly attractive building. Throw in reasonable pricing, unpolished but effective organisation, street food vendors (now a beer festival essential) and some of the country’s best brewers and all the ingredients were in place.
From the decision to go ahead to the actual event, there were just three frantic, intense, almost overwhelming months. So wracked with nerves was one of the team shortly before the event that he was found by his partner in the foetal position in bed, fists clenched rigid as if clinging to a rapidly rising balloon.
He needn’t have fretted. It was an unequivocal triumph. By some considerable distance the best beer festival I had ever attended. I went back the next year and it was even better. So it’s no surprise the event is in my diary as soon as the dates are announced (9-12 October).
According to the organisers, there are a few minor changes to the festival this year, including a plan to explore the tunnels underneath the baths. While they learned a lot from the experience of the first year, they’re keen to avoid complacency.
“While it would be relatively easy to just repeat what was already a good formula from previous years, we don’t really want it to be easy. If we’re excited about it, then that should come across and hopefully others will be excited too.”
I am. I don’t usually look forward to October given the anniversaries and unhappy reminders it brings me, but if there’s one shining light almost guaranteed to bring cheer to my year’s darkening, it’s this convention. An event that captures the spirit of so many summer festivals and equips you with the zythophilic succour for the wintery travails ahead.
Indy Man Beer Con takes place Thursday 9th to Sunday 12th October 2014 at Victoria Baths, Hathersage Rd, Manchester. The Guardian called it “a joyous event held in the crumbling splendour of the Victoria Baths” and the session times are as follows;
Thursday 9th October / 5.30pm – 11.30pm
Friday 10th October / 11.00am – 4:30pm and 5.30pm – 11.30pm
Saturday 11th October / 11.00am – 4:30pm and 5.30pm – 11.30pm
Sunday 12th October / 1pm – 7pm