Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Worlds apart

This week sees the latest annual IndyManBeerCon held in Victoria Baths in Manchester. Tempting as it might be, I have no intention of having a go at this, as Matthew Lawrenson of Seeing the Lizards fame has skewered it perfectly here, and also here last year. But it must be said that it epitomises pretty much everything that passes me by in the world of beer and pubs – the relentless pursuit of extremes in strength, flavour and price, and the total disconnection from the experience of the ordinary drinker. It is the Beer Bubble encapsulated.

It’s hard to see that it has much, if any, connection with the world of National Inventory listings, cosy wood-panelled snugs, sleeping pub cats, Spoons vouchers, darts trophies, old boys’ banter, fish tanks, Draught Bass and OBB and boarded-up pubs. Not to mention sports TV and family dining!

I’ve argued here that it isn’t reasonable to expect everyone to be interested in everything, even though an accusatory finger is often pointed in the direction of those who dare to yawn at the Latest Cool Thing. But it cuts both ways – recently I sang the praises of a wonderful traditional pub in Somerset, only for someone to complain that its beer range consisted of “four bitters”. The horror! And just imagine the existential crisis if expected to drink in a place that only offers one bitter!

So perhaps it would be best if the organisers admitted it was just a jolly for well-heeled middle-class crafties that really has no relevance to the experience of the ordinary pubgoer or beer drinker in Britain today, and certainly does not represent the vanguard of some revolutionary beer movement. Nothing against it, just not for me. And the question must be asked whether these two very different worlds can or should be accommodated within the same big tent.

42 comments:

  1. I think that events like IndyManBeerCon do have relevance to the beer drinking world at large. Firstly, it does have some connection to the pub. It's a time for like-minded people to get together, talk and drink beer. Yes, the scale is larger the beers are very different & more adventurous in scope and the food is pop-up stalls rather than pub food but it's still a time to get together, drink and enjoy the company of others and beer.

    When it comes to the larger beer-drinking community I think the appearance of craft beer on supermarket shelves has been because of the actions and words of this very passionate minority. I don't see it as some noble vanguard, more like scouts making new paths - some people choose to join them, others don't and that's their choice. Interestingly I was at the Bristol Craft Beer Festival in September and, whilst there was the usual pretty mad stuff (Full disclosure: Which I LOVE) there was also an interesting appearance of some more muted styles which rely a lot more on subtlety and balance in brewing (e.g. pils) and so I think there's some back-and-forth between the, for want of a better phrase, "ordinary" beer-drinking world and the World Of Craft.

    As a music festival-goer I look at this a bit like one of those. You certainly wouldn't put different genres of music on the same stage at the same time but it's certainly possible to but different types of music on at the same festival and allow customers to wander between them as they will.

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  2. I'm sorry but it has no connection to the pub whatsoever. People talking together and having a drink does not a pub make. And forcing thirds on people removes the session element that is unique to pubs. Admire it, enjoy it but don't try to extrapolate from it.

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    1. Quite so - a fun, expensive jolly for well-heeled crafterati, but not a way of saving the pub and beer world. Maybe next year I should apply for a trade ticket ;-)

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    2. I think you're famous enough. You probably could get in free like Tandleman:)

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  3. I wasn't the commentator on your previous post but I think you're making a bit too much of the "four bitters" comment. I read it that surely with 4 different beers they didn't all have to be bitters. And I agree really. Surely there is room for just one beer being different. My local has 4-5 beers on, and they try to make sure they've got a dark beer on. It does sell less, but they get it in pins so it doesn't end up sitting around too long. And I'm more than happy with a one bitter pub.

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    1. Indeed. I was that commentator, and wasn't "complaining" as our host chooses to suggest. Not been to that hostelry, but seemed a perfectly decent one from the information provided. However, that article was about perceptions of the "ideal pub". We all have different views as to that. On the beer side my IDEAL pub would have a wider balance of beers than that.

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  4. I think IndyMan is a fairly extreme point on a spectrum - I'm a bit of a craft-wanker myself, and even I can't really be bothered traipsing halfway across the country just to drink fancy beers - but it is still a spectrum. And I think some stuff does bubble out in one form or another - there was a point ten years ago when you'd probably have said that Punk IPA or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale were totally disconnected from the ordinary beer drinker, and now they're supermarket fodder. Similarly Chimay or Duvel before that. And going by recent Twitter chat, Tesco have been approaching a few breweries about stocking their sours recently, which again would have been strictly nerd-bait five years ago.

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  5. And FWIW, if we're going to talk about "ordinary beer drinkers", it's worth remembering that lager still outsells "ale and bitter" - let alone specifically cask ale - by about 7 pints to 2:
    http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/food-and-drink/lager-struggles-to-retain-its-fizz-as-usage-drops-to-a-half-of-brits

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    1. Oh, I'm well aware of that, and it makes the mewlings of the crafterati all the more irrelevant. Carling probably outsells all self-proclaimed "craft beer" (excluding mainstream cask) twenty to one.

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    2. Well, that mintel thing reckons that 20% of people claim to drink "craft beer", whatever they understand it to be. But in any case, it also makes the claims of the, erm, caskerati to speak for the regular bloke seem pretty spurious as well, though. Particularly given that "ale and bitter" covers everything from PBAs to cans of John Smiths. Just because it's the niche that you inhabit doesn't make it not a niche.

      If you really think that it matters whether you're in touch with the ordinary beer drinker or not, you should probably get with the Campaign for Real Cooking Lager. Otherwise, maybe we should accept that we're basically all banging the drum for the stuff that we happen to like.

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    3. I'm not a member of the "caskerati". I love cask beer, but don't regard it as the only thing worth drinking in pubs. And I fully recognise that it is lager sales, not ale, that sustain the vast majority of pubs.

      Hell, I even enjoy the odd pint of Double Four or Pure Brewed ;-)

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    4. I can at least confirm you're receptive to a variety of beer styles, and that you've been known to go for extreme Cloudwater ales in the Magnet.

      While IndyMan is nothing like a pub, it's also an occasional treat to enjoy stronger beers. It'snot like I'mhaving to choose IndyMan over the Boar's Head or Armoury on a regular basis, after all. Agree with Tyson on glasses,of couse. All beers should be served and drunk in pint nonics.

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    5. But the point is that it's an incestuous jolly for well-heeled crafties, not something pointing the way to the future of beer.

      And, at £13.50 for entry and £7.50 a pint, an impoverished semi-retired person like me will certainly be giving it a wide berth.

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    6. I'm by no means impoverished, but I baulk at the prices.

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    7. But you are a Scotsman ;-)

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    8. There is that. I wonder though if those that are a bit less affluent will simply go for the strong beers and eke them out? Most likely what I will do if I go and that's by no means certain now.

      After all who is going to buy a £7.50 pint (equivalent) of a 3.8% cask beer which is designed for swigging and sip it for ages? This is a flawed policy imo.

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    9. Most crafties are less affluent than you old codgers but believe there is something about this worth the money. Most appear less affluent than your gritty hard working class bloke what keeps it real like what I am.

      I think if you look at it as belonging to a sub culture than anything actually beer related it makes more sense.

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    10. And some people on Twitter were moaning about quoting a price per pint when the beer isn't actually sold in pints!

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    11. Very fair points by Cookie. Essentially we have a must attend event that also sells beer. Be there or be square. Ho hum.

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    12. It's all paid for by the bank of Mum and Dad anyway. You think beer communicators actually make a living? Or craft brewers for that matter? Either that or understanding working partners with proper paid jobs.

      The bank of Mum and Dad would be people your age. Wanna adopt a lager lout and fund another craft beer lifestyle?

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  6. The thing I find strange are people in London buying a train ticket to Manchester to remain in the same place. Travel without the actual different place to be bit.

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  7. I'd have an easier time believing these kinds of events (and blogs for that matter) were completely irrelevant if people devoted less time to talking about how irrelevant they are...

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  8. If it doesn't taste just as good after you've had a gallon of it, its not beer.

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  9. I suspect IMBC is a lot of fun if you're in the right frame of mind. Probably more fun than drinking the usual suspects by the warm half in some fluorescent lit civic centre. Let's face it, all beer festivals are pretty much irrelevant to The Pub (unless they're in the pub).

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    1. Oh yes, if you're that way inclined I'm sure it's a fun, if expensive, once-a-year jolly. But that's all it is.

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    2. It's also something of a catwalk. This is a fashion biz after all.

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  10. When I read people writing about beer with phrases such as 'passionate' and 'scouts making new paths', I realise I've entered an alternative universe. If I can just find that wormhole back to reality ...

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  11. I wouldn’t dismiss IndyMan totally; in fact if I lived in the North West I would probably go along to see what it’s all about. The £13.50 entry fee isn’t much above what CAMRA charge members of the public for admission to GBBF, and as for the reported £7.50 a pint, well you wouldn’t really want to be drinking pints with ABV’s above 7% anyway.

    What I’m really saying here is “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!”

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    1. I don't think you can equate it to a national event held in London to try and justify the entry price. This is much smaller and held in a surburb of Manchester.

      Also the pricing is the sane across the board. So you pay were well over the top for weaker beers; as the 2.6% was the same price as the 10.5%.

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  12. I went last night and it was great. A far greater cross-section of people than I see at CAMRA shindigs - young, old, multi-ethnic and most interestingly a lot more women, including several groups of friends without, as far as I could see, a bloke among them. Everyone very genial and unpretentious. The venue is stunning, the food offering excellent, and the beer fantastic. On price - yes, probably more expensive than most beer festivals but still cheaper and much more fulfilling than a night out on Deansgate Locks.

    To be clear - I enjoy the old-school festivals too (Stockport in particular is one of my big annual diary dates), and I think the inverted snobbery that comes out around Indy Man is misplaced.

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    1. I don't think it's inverted snobbery to ask questions about it. Indeed one might accuse them of that and that by excluding cask beer they are excluding a certain demographic.

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    2. Did it totally exclude cask beer this year?

      One interesting question I was pondering was how many attendees (apart from temporarily resident students) actually live within two miles of the venue?

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    3. There was no cask this year. Rather controversially; given the number of CAMRA members who help out with it.

      I don't think many attendees, students apart, live close by.

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  13. But it must be said that it epitomises pretty much everything that passes me by in the world of beer and pubs – the relentless pursuit of extremes in strength, flavour and price, and the total disconnection from the experience of the ordinary drinker. It is the Beer Bubble encapsulated.

    Sums it up.

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  14. Happily, there is *plenty* of middle ground between the caskophobic small-measure wankery that is IMBC, and the boring brown blandness of your stuffy old one-beer Sams and Robbies pubs. I choose neither of these extremes, both of which are, in their own way, fairly exclusive. Maybe it's because I'm of that age where neither the geriatric nor yoof hands are really extended out to me...

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  15. Having attended Indyman last Friday and also,in the past beer festivals at Alexandra Palace in the late 1970's I was struck by the similar mixture of people at both events. Perhaps similar comments were made almost 40 years ago that beer festivals were irrelevant to 'ordinary drinkers',whoever they may be,however it is undeniable that the beer festivals in the 1970's and their attendees had a great influence on the beer and pub industry over the succeeding decades and I believe that Indyman and similar festivals will have the same influence.

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    1. There is a crucial difference, though. The beers being enthusiastically consumed at Ally Pally were, with very few exceptions, ones that may not have been available in London, but which were drunk by ordinary people paying ordinary prices in other parts of the country. The ones at IndyMan weren't, on either count.

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    2. The selection of beer available at Ally Pally reflected what was available from the brewing industry at the time and no doubt the festival organisers attempted to select the best examples of what was available presumably in the same way as the Indyman organisers attempt to do so. Both festivals are and were creatures of their time and it is clear that the Ally Pally festivals had a great influence on drinkers from diverse backgrounds and ultimately on the beer and pub industry and that Indyman may well have a similar significant influence in the future

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  16. Regarding my comment posted at 14.38 on 09 10,I do not like to post anonymously,my name is John Lamb but I don't know my URL,whatever that is

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    1. You don't need to have a URL to use the "Name/URL" option. URL just means a link to a website.

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