IndyManBeerCon: Been there, drank that, got the T-shirt
As Alex Ferguson, the ruby-faced enforcer of Manchester United
Since dragging my well-boozed body back from Manchester last Saturday, I've been trying to find the words that go some way towards explaining why this more-than-festival was one of the most significant beery happenings in England for ages.
These random observations will have to do.
Working the keg bar was bloody good. I volunteered to work the first shift on Friday lunchtime and ended up back behind the bar for four hours in the evening, Just because it's fun talking to people who are interested in beer, telling them a little bit about what's on offer, watching their faces light up when they try something that tickles their special flavour places.
And if I couldn't answer their questions about a beer, I referred them to the brewer who was stood next to me. And so I learned stuff too.
Working the keg bar was surreal. At one point late on Friday, my fellow bar staff were Kjetil from Nøgne Ø, James & Andy from Summer Wine and Rich & Stuart from Magic Rock. The customers included James from Brewdog, Evin from Kernel and Dom from Thornbridge.
Victoria Baths was an outstanding venue. A heady mix of restoration and decrepitude; terracotta and green glaze, paint peeling from the cubicles in a just-so style, glass-floored corridors that echoed past glory days, exquisite stained glass. And we were actually set up in a pool. Not on a floor scaffolded up over a pool. In a pool. Late on, drinkers actually gravitated down to the deep end.
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. It drew in the old guard, the Twitterati and the hipster. It was great to meet the usual suspects on unusual territory. It was great to meet those who I see all too rarely. It was great to finally put IRL names to social media faces. And it was cool, if sometimes slightly scary, when total strangers walked up to me knowing me from Twitter and said hello.
Events and pop-up tastings gave the place an extra buzz. There was a palpable sense of excitement - and a rush for the stairs - when tastings by the likes of Nøgne Ø and Brewdog were announced. Toby McKenzie of Headless showed how to ruin good beer by fermenting it with an atypical yeast for the style (something I've been curious about for ages and so was a session worth travelling to Manchester for in its own right).
As for the What The Hell Is Craft Beer discussion, it didn't move us any closer to a definition (thankfully - brewer size and ownership is meaningless even in a US context and any 'movement' defined by what it isn't is born to fail). But it did prove that Zak Avery should take over from Jezza Kyle as the Voice Of Reason, James from Brewdog makes more sense when he's not parroting his press releases, Tandleman is a softy at heart, John Clarke is a diamond and Toby Mckenzie really should have stood up and said "Fuck this for a game of soldiers, anyone fancy a third-pint?"
Dirty Dogs are hot. I swear at one stage on Saturday the queue to buy one of their hot dogs was around forty minutes. Worth the wait? Well, the Dachshund was a mass of Polish sausage, sauerkraut and smoked cheese which didn't require eating as much as fellating. I wore my mustard moustache with pride.
The beers weren't too shabby. Too many to mention, but props to Magic Rock Tequila Cannonball (for being peppery-herbal rather than raw-spirit flavoured), Nøgne Ø India Pale Lager (for the segue from sweet malt to grapefruit pith) and Brodies London Sour & Lovibonds Sour Grapes (for showing that the final frontier of contemporary UK brewing - superbly executed sours - has been well and truly breached).
Stuart Ross is game for a laugh. I don't clown up many others and let them borrow the wig. But he looks born that way.
Port Street know the score. An event of this nature and scale doesn't get designed by a committee yoked with misplaced tradition. It needs vision and ambition, bloody-mindedness and bloody hard work. So caps doffed to the organisers for shaping it. And to the volunteers for staffing it, the brewers for being such an enthusiastic part of it and the thirsty punters for loving every minute of it.
I don't think I stopped smiling. From Friday morning when I first saw the pool to Saturday when a bunch of us took a cab back to Port Street Beer House:
Taxi driver - "Where to"?
Jonathan 'Alcofrolic Chap' -"Port Street Beer House".
Taxi driver - "Where is it?"
Alcofrolic (deadpan) - "Port Street. That's P.O.R.T..."
Can't wait to do it all over again. Sooner rather than later. A Spring convention, anyone..?