And so; It arrives. IndyMan; the most eagerly-anticipated beer festival of the year. Well, if you’re from the North, anyway. The hour came where you could finally put away those drool-inducing PDF’s of beer lists, let the hype from the breweries involved finally get to you, and get involved. After all, the essence of the entire festival seemed to be to get involved.
Was it good? Of course it was. It was better than that; it was...really good. There was a strong whiff of teamwork and community coming from the organisers since day one, an insistence that this was actually your festival, that we – the movement of craft beer – have been building up towards. This is our revolution. This, it was felt, was something that has been missing from Beer Festivals of late.
However, that’s another story for another time.
The location was excellent; Victoria Baths is a lovely, crumbling old Queen of a building full of nooks and crannies that are interesting enough before you’ve even thought about sticking food and beer in there. I don’t think I’ve ever spent time before drinking a drop of beer at a festival tip-toeing around with my drinking buddies, marvelling at the bright Autumn sun illuminating the stained glass windows and speaking in hushed tones lest the jade-tiled walls amplify up our disbelieving gasps at the sheer grandeur of it all. Yes; let’s have more festivals in interesting places, please.
Onto the pick of the day’s beer; Brodie’s Stepney Green Steam was first up; less a California Common than a silky, elegant Pale Ale with a strong leaning towards Kiwi Fruit and Gooseberry. A long, dry finish made sure that you were thinking of another before you got halfway through your first. After reading ATJ’s recent piece on Wild Beer Company I couldn’t resist sampling Modus Operandi; a real statement of a first brew. An old ale in a modern jacket, it was strong, smooth and awash with mild vanilla, cherry-skin and an undertow of nutty, almond-cake notes. My tasting notes read ‘Old Peculier on steroids‘ – if you’re a fan of the titular Yorkshire Strong ale and want to try something that progresses those flavours, but adds a feral note, then Modus Operandi is the one for you. Wonderful.
Lovibonds are a brewery that, as a Yorkshireman, I’d never tried before, but I wasn’t going to miss out on trying. Henley Gold proved to be all that I’d read; a superbly balanced, clear-as-a-bell Wheat beer, with every knob dialled down to ‘smooth’; creamy malt, estery Banana notes and a refreshingly sweet, graceful finish. It would have been easy to drink this all afternoon, but decorum would simply not allow.
Onwards to Rooster’s Dry-Hopped Yankee; a firm favourite re-imagined with a sprinkle of Hops in the cask and – wow – what a difference it made. All those notes you’ve come to expect from Yankee are there alright; digestive-biscuit malt and a dry finish; but overlaid with a superbly fresh, peppery-herbal-then-fruitbowl aroma. This kind of experimentation – producing one-off, tweaked beers – was happening all over the festival, and was one of the things that piqued my interest from the start.
Keeping things in Yorkshire, Ilkley’s Green Goddess surprised; purely for not being what I expected. What I expected was a crisp, clean Pale Ale that showcased the green hops that went into it; but a dose of Belgian yeast saw off any real hop aroma and replaced it with those wonderful woody, estery notes that we all know and love. A very good Pale Ale/Belgian Pale hybrid – don’t get me wrong – but not what I expected at all.
Summer Wine’s Aoraki Red IPA didn’t disappoint in the assertiveness stakes; a full-bodied, sweet IPA with a wonderfully full, herbal/ pine-needle nose and a long, long, long bitterness that eased before bringing a touch more sweetness to the palate – I’d like to have some more of this at home to ponder over. Kernel’s Topaz re-wrote the sweet IPA rulebook by providing masses of Orange-pith and Lychee aroma with a relatively easy-going 6% abv; and served colder due to the keg dispense, ended up being ruinously drinkable.
Despite all these big-hitters, my beer of the weekend was a humble little 3.6% abv brew called London Sour from those guys and girls at Brodies. Uber-pale, light as a feather and lip-puckeringly sour, this is the little Berliner-Weisse that could, for sure. Supremely thirst-quenching, packing all the lemon-pith and bone-dry finish of fresh Tarte Au Citron and blending it with the high dryness of the freshest G&T you could imagine, this beer is more fun than a basket of lemons and twice as sharp. I had three; and I could have drunk more. Bravo, Brodies. You’re welcome in the North anytime.
IndyMan managed to pack great beer (Cask, Keg, Bottle), tasty food that is borne out of the same independent spirit and thirst for flavor over profit that the breweries possess, and pride at the city’s civic buildings into one great weekend. The traders, cider-makers, tea-makers, pork-pullers (oo-er!), coffee-grinders, hot-dog conjurers, speakers and tasting-session hosters, brewers and staff of the likes of Common, Port Street Beer House and The Grove should be very, very proud of. The atmosphere was great; friendly, reverent without being preachy, and inclusive. Community, indeed.
UPDATE – There’s another great roundup and some lovely pictures here.