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One of Manchester’s biggest beer festivals has returned – and it’s bigger (and better) than ever. After two years at the velodrome near the City of Manchester Stadium, Manchester and Beer Cider Festival has moved to Manchester Central (aka GMEX). Although the move didn’t seem to be an ideal situation for the organisers (especially as it costs significantly more to hire the venue), it’s worked out well for the event.
There are two main advantages – a central location and a better layout. Getting the tram up to the velodrome was always a bit of a pain so being right next to a city centre Metrolink stop does make the journey there and back much easier. In terms of the layout, all of the bars are in one place and you don’t have to traipse up and down flights of stairs to get everywhere.
The 2016 event also has another significant differentiating feature – the key-keg bar. Previous years did feature some keg beer on the international bar, this is a huge leap forward for CAMRA to welcome keg beer, albeit only certain keg beer, at one of their festivals. I’d heard it wasn’t popular among some of the more, shall we say, old school members of the organisation, but it just seems a decision that makes sense – if you cater for all beer lovers, you’ll get more customers. Indy Man Beer Con 2015 had something similar with the addition of cask beer, so it’s great that festival organisers are trying to cater for a variety of tastes.
In terms of the other beer on offer, the international bar has also grown significantly. Previous years often focused on German and Belgian beers, but 2016 also includes breweries from Denmark (Amager), Sweden (Omnipollo) and even a couple from New Zealand. Spanish beer is also featured due to a link up with the Barcelona Beer Festival – another progressive move from CAMRA. As a result of this partnership, BBF will include a Manchester bar with 24 beers from the city being sent over – a nice idea. And I can’t not mention the British cask beer: there are 471 British beers from 170 breweries. Enough to keep everyone happy.
Overall, it’s a great event and the organisers have done a fantastic job. I feel that they’ve taken feedback on board from previous years – I didn’t spot any sexist t-shirts on sale, for example – and organised a festival that keeps both the real ale purists and the craft beer drinkers happy. The only criticisms I have are minor; it’s a bit chilly in there (but it’s a huge venue and a former railway station so I assume fairly difficult to heat), the food offer isn’t the best for non-meat eaters (although they’re selling the wonderful Karkli which is just about the best beer snack of all time),and it doesn’t appear that there’s anywhere to get a glass of tap water (the bar I asked at didn’t have drinking water, at least – maybe some of the others do). We also did move seats at one point as we were sat across from some gents making some fairly sexist/out-dated comments – not directed at me, I should point out – which did ruin the atmosphere a bit and show that maybe not everyone is as progressive as the organisers are trying to be…
These minor points aside, it’s a well-organised festival with some exciting and interesting beers to try – and I’m looking forward to a return visit on Friday.
Well, it’s got to be said that 2015 has been a pretty damn good year if you’re a beer drinker in Manchester. We’ve had new breweries setting up shop, new bars opening and plenty of beer festivals and brew taps, so here’s a little look back at the year just gone.
Thursday isn’t always the ideal day for a beer festival (especially if you start work at 7.30am like me!) but as it was a choice between that and the Sunday afternoon session, Thursday it was for our Indy Man Beer Con fun.
Arriving promptly at Victoria Baths for 5.30pm, it was a short queue and we were in. It’s one of the priciest beer festivals I’ve ever been to (about £10/12 entrance I do believe) but that included your glass, programme and a pencil.
We grabbed a spot on the end of a table and enjoyed a few beers (all on Untappd) sat in a stunning room.
But even more eye catching was room 1. This looks like it was once the main pool and is complete with changing stalls around the outside and ladders. Room 3 was slightly smaller but also had the cute restored changing rooms.
After a few beers we headed to Almost Famous for some grub. I’m a big fan of their food but although the toppings were amazing, the burgers seemed a bit smaller than the ones in their restaurants. Still delicious though!
We then nipped over to the Green Room. This, according to a plaque on the wall, was where users of the adjoining Turkish Bath went to cool down. It was a bit chilly but had a few tables so settled down in there. It was also the site of a bar by Port Street Beer House which was delightfully named Portable Street Beer House (I do enjoy a good pun).
We were joined by two of Ross’ friends later on and ended the evening at about 11pm.
Although we tried a lot of good beers (as well as some not so good ones!), the stand out beer for me was Summer Wine Brewery‘s Mauna Kea. While ordering another one of theirs, I was recommended this one by the chap who served me and given a little taster. I fell in love!! An IPA with tropical flavours such as coconut and lychee – wow! But alas when I returned for a glass of it, it was all gone. Such a shame!!
Indy Man Beer Con was definitely a well organised and very enjoyable beer festival – wide range of beers to suit all tastes, interesting venue, minimal waiting to get served and lots of seating. My only regret is that we could only attend on the Thursday evening especially as some of the breweries we came across in Copenhagen (will blog about it soon!) such as Evil Twin and To Øl were only available on the different days and it would have also been nice to stay til the close. Will definitely have to buy tickets earlier next year. Roll on IMBC2015!
On Wednesday we took a visit to something I’d been looking forward to for a while – The Manchester Beer and Cider Festival at the Velodrome. Because of work and various other commitments they only day we were able to go down was the opening evening and despite it being a school night we managed to sample a fair few beers as I predominately stuck to thirds.
I documented everything we both had but alas I didn’t remember to leave myself any notes or reviews other than the name and percentage so I can’t quite remember everything!
I’ve never been to the Velodrome before but it’s a pretty snazzy venue. The bars and shop stalls were all in the middle of the track while the food stalls and toilets were all up near the entrance. Minor flaw of the venue as it meant down one flight of stairs and up another two to get to the toilets but not too much of an issue.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was the foreign beer bar so we made a beeline for there on arrival.
I started off with the 5.1% Karg Helles Weissbier (no third option available for these so went for a half). This was a lovely thick Weissbier with a really good aftertaste. If I was in a pub, I would have stuck to this all night.
Meanwhile Ross had the 5% Andechs Dunkles Weissbier.
But after a read through the programme, with all beers helpfully labeled with their type so you could easily pick your favourites Ross went for some English wheat beer.
This is the 4.2% Green Jack Orange Wheat Beer. A brewery I’d not heard of before (according to their website England’s most easterly brewery) but the orange flavours worked really well and after looking at their website I’d be keen to sample some of their others.
I was still on my first one (I’m a very slow drinker) so it was a stout next for Ross. Cornish brewery Harbour’s 5% Oatmeal Stout.
By this point I’d finally finished by first drink so decided to go for the 4.3% Church End Pooh Beer. As the name suggests it’s made with honey with a great colour and a sweet aftertaste.
Then Ross went for a choice by one of his favourite breweries, Coniston. We went to their pub the Black Bull a few months back when we were in the Lakes and he’s been a big fan of their beers ever since. This is the 5 % Winter Warmer Blacksmiths Ale (we were sat on the floor by this point!).
Meanwhile I took a trip over to the Isle of Man to sample the 3.6% Manx Pale Ale by Okell’s. Big fan of pale ale so I enjoyed this. My dad, who is of Manx heritage, told me Manx beer is “usually horrible” but I enjoyed this one and would definitely like to try some more of theirs.
Meanwhile Ross decided to stay local and try the 4.4% Porter by Pictish in Rochdale…
..followed by the 5.5% Stout by Bury’s Outstanding.
I then went back to wheat beer with Offbeat’s Way Out Wheat. I’ve tried this 4.5% wheat beer in bottle before from Beermoth in the Northern Quarter but I enjoyed it a lot more on cask.
Ross stayed local again with Inn Crowd, a 3.8% dark mild from Brightside in Bury.
I went hunting for more wheat beer and selected White, a 4.2% pale beer brewed with 20% wheat, by Enville.
Sticking local yet again, Ross went for 3.8% Rum Porter by North Manchester’s Boggart Brewery.
I was then after the only other wheat beer I hadn’t tried, which was Cherkeby by Kirkby Lonsdale, but there was none left so that will have to wait for another time. Instead I went for Liverpool Organic’s 4.2% 24 Carat Gold which was nice and hoppy.
By this time we’d decided it was probably time to head home (it was a school night after all) so for Ross’ last drink he wandered over to the Bollington bar and went for the 4.1% Cheshire Ginger Brew. Near the end of last year we took a trip down to the Bollington Brewery (partly for work, partly for play!) and had sampled most of their beers and really enjoyed them, but this was one neither of us had tried before. The ginger taste really added something but wasn’t too overpowering so definitely a good choice.
For my final drink I went for Allgates’ Gin Pit, which was 4.3%. Alas by this point I can’t really remember what it was like but I know I enjoyed it and it was a great way to round off a fun evening full of great beer.
Overall the event felt organised and not too chaotic with a great choice of beers available to sample.
Roll on next year!