So I woke up early, living in South London I had a long journey ahead to get to Manchester, my house is about 13km away from Euston and knew I had to cycle up so I had to at least leave an hour to get there. The morning was nice for a ride, not too cold and not raining so a perfect day to trundle through London with my panniers on board. It’s times like this I sometimes wish I was touring by bike and one day I must, there is something inherently peaceful about it for me. The ride up to Euston was uneventful and it woke me up enough to cope with the 2 hour train ride up to Manchester.
So why did I decide to travel all that way for what was basically a beer festival? Well there was a few major reasons behind this for me, virtually all the brewers that were attending were small craft ale houses. Small breweries who I believe are doing things a bit differently to take major notice of. I had already been drinking stuff from BrewDog and Summer Wine Brewery to name a few but for some reason this event felt special and I wanted to be part of it. Originally I only signed myself up for an afternoon drinking session on the Saturday 6th, I thought I would go into Manchester that evening and explore a few of the pubs I had read about and even make a night of it in a club or something. It was about a week later when the organisers were asking for volunteers I thought why the hell not, having never volunteered for something like this I thought it would be a bit silly to travel all that way for just one evening so arrangements were made for accommodation and travel and it was at this point I decided that taking my bike was a good idea so I did not have to spend loads of cash getting to and from the venue.
From the train journey I contacted a friend of mine who works at the BBC so I could meet him and grab a key because I was staying with him that evening then the plan was to cycle to his house (in Sale about 14km away), drop some stuff off and then cycle to the venue to attend my volunteering session for 3pm, I chatted with my friend and had lunch with him and by the time I had got about 6km away from his house I realised there was not enough time to make it there and then get to the venue so I changed my bike GPS to point me in the right direction and I arrived with 15 or so minutes to spare.
The venue itself you can read about in other peoples blogs and even see pictures, this was also another reason for me to go. It took place in the Victoria Baths a now disused spa, now used for craft fairs and suchlike. For me it was a perfect venue for such an event, it had real atmosphere and that was without people in it drinking you should be able to see from other peoples photo’s the beauty of the place. Eager to get started I got changed out of my cycle gear, popped on my official Indy Man Beer Con t-shirt and reported for duty at the cask bar. The bar itself housed some 18 or so different beers ranging from 3.8% to 9.1% ABV ass the last of the afternoon’s customers came I began to get a feel for what was going on. Drinkers were issued with a glass which would hold a third of a pint (approx 200ml) they had also changed up cash into tokens that they used to buy drinks which cost anywhere between one and three tokens which for the volunteers made life very easy indeed. Within an hour the drinkers had been removed and we tidied the tables ready for the next session which started at 5pm. As soon as work was kicking out the few drinkers that arrived early had turned into a mass of people all wanting to try what was on offer. It was at this point in time that I totally lost track of time.
I think due to the size of the glass, size of the crowd and demand to be served I hardly stopped pouring, briefly chatting and saying hi to people trying to help them as much as possible to choose something they would like. It was not only the constant flow that amazed me but the diversity in people and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of women that I served. Now I don’t mean that in a sexist way but beer festivals are usually a very male affair but I served several women who said they don’t really drink beer but were willing to try and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to them briefly to see if we had something to fit their palette and 95% of the time we did. During any minor quiet moment I would trial out a beer or two, call it a perk of volunteering, not a full third just a taster so I could advise better, besides I had another 14km bike ride for the way home so I could not drink too much. So any ladies out there who think that beer festivals are only for men with beards I can only tell you that is not the truth I served lots of guys who were clean shaven. At the height of the evening there was an amazing buzz in the room, people were chatting, laughing and no doubt discussing the day, the beer, the weekend ahead it was basically a big pub in a spa and that was just the cask room. Before I knew it the organisers had called time at the bar and we started the cleanup, I had been serving solidly for about 9 hours, I hadn’t eaten but I had a massive smile on my face and was looking forward to the ride back towards Sale to dive into bed.
- The beer, the range was very diverse something for almost everyone
- Meeting the brewers, for me this was awesome as I get to say hi and thank you directly to the people who are making the product
- The atmosphere, like I said before the Friday night was an incredible feeling and had a great buzz to it
- The food was great (despite the queues) the quality was high, providers were local and it all tasted delicious I’m sure
What could be improved
- More options for food, the three sellers had a massive queue all the time which is great for the provides, less great for the people who had to queue an hour for food, maybe hook it in with a local pizza place or something.
- Ensure volunteers get fed, I know I should of taken an initiative to take a break but I still feel that you should ensure your volunteers eat.
- Put the taps in some kind of order, maybe all the porters/dark beers in one place, all the IPA style beers in another or alphabetical, just some sort of order would of been better than the random order they were in
- Brief volunteers a bit on the beers available maybe pre-arrange a tasting session to enable them to give better advise.
- The pricing seemed a little weird in places and sometimes customers asked and I could not tell them as I was not told.
- Make the talks available online, basically record them and put them online a few weeks after
With all those improvements IMBC was I believe a great success and I would be happy to volunteer again in the same circumstance of course things can always be improved but it was awesome to be part of something that felt special. Well done to the organisers I shall be looking to repeat the event with you in 2013 with more of the same with even more brewers perhaps. You can read what the organisers had to say about the event on their website, here you can also read a number of other blogs all talking about the experience.