With tickets sold out months in advance, kegs outnumbering casks, the brewers themselves serving the beer and Camra nowhere to be seen, IMBC is like a beer festival but much better. Held in the magnificent Victoria Baths, the venue itself adds greatly to the theatre of the event. If the brick exterior is spectacular then once inside, the labyrinth of tiled corridors, the stained glass windows and the wrought-iron beams are a joy to behold. IndyMan would be a great event held anywhere but by holding it at Victoria Baths, the organisers have added the magic touch.
Once in, we made a beeline for the Turkish Baths, which had been taken over for the duration of the event by Magic Rock from Huddersfield. Everything I had read on the subject suggested that Magic Rock make fantastic beer but unfortunately it's virtually impossible to get hold of. My one and only taste of their produce so far had been a Cannonball IPA at the Young Pretender in Congleton and it was bloody marvellous. Much as I'd like to buy a few bottles though, I've so far not been able to because in all my travels, I've never seen one for sale. Their website says that they make around 13,000 pints a week and I can only assume that the Yorkshire folk are so keen on it that they don't like to let it come this side of the Pennines.
And I don't blame them one little bit. Our first beer of the night was a High Wire, served by Magic Rock's Head Brewer, Stuart Ross. High Wire is a 5.5% American Pale Ale which has a light amber colour. The first thing that surprised me was just how cold it was served. I'm not quite sad enough to carry a thermometer round, but I'd say it wasn't much over 6 or 7 degrees if I had to guess. On the whole, it was cold, fizzy and utterly delicious. Just the way I like my beer. I won't attempt to describe the delicious hoppiness in any further detail because it wouldn't do the beer justice. My drinking partner Nick knows his beer and was blown away by High Wire. Just get some and see for yourself.
We stayed in the Magic Rock cave for a bit and had a Cannonball, a Great Alphonso and a Simpleton. Simpleton is a great idea - a low strength 2.6% pale ale but with loads of delicious hoppy taste. I would love to try some again, when my tastebuds haven't just been assaulted by a bunch of other, stronger beers because I suspect it's really rather good.
Eventually it was time to leave the Magic Rock grotto and have a look round. We moved on to the main room and had a Marble Farmhouse IPA, which is the only beer of the night to get an unhappy face drawn next to it on my programme. Whether it genuinely wasn't very nice or whether it just wasn't as good as High Wire I'm not sure. It's always difficult to remain objective at these events but whatever the reason, we weren't keen and unhappy face it was.
A Blackjack/Weird Beard Weird Wit was next, served by Jay Krause from Quantum Brewing. Another first for us was a dark beer from Brewdog called Dead Metaphor, which was very pleasant. We rattled through a Cromarty AKA IPA, a Cromarty Red Rooster, a Quantum NZ Light, a Thornbridge Sequoia, an Arbor Tasmanian Devil, a Buxton Dry Hopped Gold and a Buxton Axe Edge before it was time to make a move.
It would have been rude not to finish off with a bit more High Wire so we snuck back to the Turkish Baths for a couple before calling it a day. A night out in Manchester wouldn't be complete if I didn't subsequently fall asleep on the train and end up in Crewe and once again I didn't disappoint.
One thing that I took away from the night was just how good Keykegs are as a serving method. I usually like my ale a little colder and more carbonated than average and keg beer gives you exactly that. We only had one or two cask beers on the night and they were noticeably warmer and flatter than the others. To my taste, they were less enjoyable for it.
As ever, the next day I managed to read the programme in more detail and saw loads of beers I'd like to have had but didn't. The offerings from Mikkeller and Tool would probably top that list. IndyMan was so enjoyable that I can't imagine not going next year so hopefully I'll make amends then.