INDY MAN BEER CON – MANCHESTER

Indy Man Beer Con
Victoria Baths
Hathersage Road
Manchester
M13 0FE

FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 11 OCTOBER 2014

How can you fail to love the Indy Man Beer Con? You get to drink great beer while staggering around a disused Victorian Public Baths!

I woke up drunk from the night before. It had been a good night that had started with drinking Stillwater in the King’s Arms and had ended with a mosh at a Future of the Left gig in the Garage… and in between those two events we managed to knock back some cans of Bengali Tiger and some pints of Devil’s Backbone IPA in a Spoons. The morning started just before seven with a bottle of IPA Citra Galactique (by Brasseurs du Grand Paris) in the house the on the train we had a bottle of Moet & Chandon followed by a can of Smog Rocket and a bottle of La Noire (by Correizenne). By the time I arrived in Manchester at 11am I was already pretty trashed. We wandered in the general direction of the Victorian Baths but eventually got bored and flagged down a taxi.

Once inside the festival my opening salvo was an Original (Cider) from Thistly Cross. After that it was beer overdrive! At some point I got so drunk that I actually stopped logging beers on Untappd. Before that I spent a fair bit of time hanging out in the Turkish Baths and on a rocking chair that was somewhere near the Magic Rock bar. Along the way I met up with old friends but probably didn’t make any new ones. I had a lovely time.

For the sake of historical accuracy, here are the beers I had (before my ability to tap an iProduct screen escaped me):

So’Hop – Moor
Gamma Ray – Beavertown
Earl Phantom – Beavertown
Cap Dog – BrewDog
Pognophobia – Magic Rock
Sour Bikini – Evil Twin
Imperial Doughnut Break – Evil Twin
Fuck Art This Is Advertising – To Øl
One Hells Of A Beaver – Camden Town and Beavertown
Black Betty – Beavertown

Yeah, IndyManBeerCon 2014 was great… I will be returning in 2015.

IndyManBeerCoon

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BREWDOG (SHOREDITCH) – LONDON

BrewDog Shoreditch
51-55 Bethnal Green Road
London
E1 6LA

EIGTH VISIT: FRIDAY 10 OCTOBER 2014

SEVENTH VISIT: FRIDAY 12 SEPTEMBER 2014

I was meeting a mate for lunch but I’d arrived in Shoreditch slightly too early. Two choices: go straight to the Well & Bucket (our lunch destination) or nip into a BrewDog for a swift two thirds of something. I’m always eager to grasp at every opportunity to flash my Equity For Punks card so BrewDog it was. After an initial read through of the beer board I had a shortlist of three: the Russian Doll Pale, IPA or DIPA. I decided to go middle of the road and ordered am IPA. It was good – decent mouthful of chewy hops with a nice oily bitterness but it’s not quite the taste sensation that Jackhammer currently is.

A customer approached the bar and ordered some drinks. The barman gave him a price. The customer asked if the shareholder’s discount had been applied. The barman apologised and said ‘you’ve been coming here for months so I really should remember that you’re a shareholder.’ The customer replied ‘you served me ten minutes so, yeah, you really should have remembered.’ The barman gave a nervous laugh. The customer remained stoic. I was tempted to see if the barman remembered I’m a shareholder but decided that it would piss me off too much if he didn’t.

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SIXTH VISIT: FRIDAY 15 AUGUST 2014

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FIFTH VISIT: THURSDAY 19 JUNE 2014

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FOURTH VISIT: WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 2014

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THIRD VISIT: SUNDAY 4 MAY 2014

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SECOND VISIT: WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH 2012

So here I was back in BrewDog Shoreditch on a Wednesday but it wasn’t quite the afternoon as I had planned and hoped for. The place was reasonably quiet. Most of the tables were occupied but a few were still devoid of people. I went straight for a pint of Punk. My friend paid for the drinks. The server remembered him from previous visits and remembered that he was a shareholder, which is a nice touch. I can’t think of any beer – in the craft beer world – that is debated and discussed and dissed and dissected as much as Punk. Sometimes it is great. Sometimes it is rubbish Thankfully, this was a quality pint of Punk. When the Punk’s were dead I returned to the bar. The place was getting busier. There were two folk working behind the bar and they were both serving. A third member of staff appeared with glasses in his hands. He put the glasses down but instead of asking what I would like he started chatting to a woman at the end of the bar. It was apparent from their body language that they were a couple. After a minute or so he asked what I would like. I was tempted to say ‘someone who serves customers before they chat to their girlfriend’ but I merely asked for two Gonger IPA. I’d never had a beer by Stronzo before. I’m not even sure if I had heard of them before. The Gonger was good in a slightly weird way. Chewy and brown leafy was what I wrote for my Untappd check-in. We were sitting by the door. For some reason whenever anybody came in they left the door open even though it was closed when they got there. It wasn’t exactly freezing but it was still an annoying development. At the table next to us a member of staff was conducting a mini beer school and she kept getting up and closing the door, which saved me having to do it. I returned to the bar for a final beer – Blitz! Raspberry. This time it was a painless transaction. But I shouldn’t have bothered as the beer tasted dangerously close to vinegar.

I’m still not in love with BDShoreditch.

BDShore

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FIRST VISIT: FRIDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2014

I’ve visited every BrewDog bar south of Burton-upon-Trent and Shoreditch is the only one I’ve not entirely taken to. It’s the only one where the other customer’s seem to think they are more important than everyone else in the bar. It’s the only one where the staff have seemed more concerned with flirting with their colleagues than providing the excellent service that is prevalent in other BrewDog bars. But, hey, we can all be a bit of dick on occasion and we all like a bit of an ego boost every now and again. Perhaps I’ve just been unfortunate in the past. Perhaps this visit would be different… Oh! Hold on. I would be arriving at the same time that all the trade session attendees would be getting booted out of Craft Beer Rising.

I arrived shortly after five thirty to find the place busy but not uncomfortably rammed. I snaked through the throng and found a spot at the bar. A cheery and attentive member of staff sidled straight over and enquired about my beer based needs. So far so good. I ordered a pint of Punk and a couple of Lumberjacks (order them at 5.30pm and they are just about warm enough to drink when breakfast rolls around). I flashed my EFP Card and didn’t have to remind him to apply the discount when he returned from the till and quoted a price. Even further and still good. I slowly supped my Punk while I awaited the arrival of my cohort. There was no way I was going to fight my way back through the swelling crowd with three drinks and reasonably sized bag without spilling a drop so I held court at the far end of the bar. It was a silent court but I held it well. The bar staff served new arrivals promptly and explained and chatted when that course of action was required. In those rare moments that no beers required pouring and the bar was clean and tidy the staff chatted amongst themselves but no backs were turned to the audience and whenever service was required they stopped mid conversation and happily stepped forward, which was good to see.

My drinking companion for the next few days arrived and relieved me off a couple of glasses then vanished into the melee. The place was getting full towards bursting and I was now swimming against a crowd a drunken craft beer enthusiasts. It always saddens me that people trying to get to the bar don’t realise it makes more sense to let people away from the bar first. Sadly I was saddened by such a scenario in Shoreditch. But I made it to my destination with my beer and my anger intact. The world is generally a better looking place when viewed from a booth table in an busy bar. We sat and chatted for 90 minutes or so. I happily worked my way through a Libertine and an 8 Wired Rewired before, finally, the Lumberjack was at an acceptable drinking temperature… it was worth the wait. Before leaving the premises I politely pushed my way to the gents where I encountered a couple of guys taking photographs of the record sleeve artwork that adorns the walls. Weird but preferable to folk shagging or snorting coke. As I departed I gave the bar a brief examination. People were queuing two or three deep. The staff appeared to be serving with speed and compassion. Nice.

I still wasn’t totally won over by BrewDog Shoreditch but my previous problems with the staff were fully exorcised. And I know I will return. Perhaps I’ll see how they cope with a Wednesday afternoon visit. Maybe then I can declare my love to the world.

STORMBIRD – LONDON

Stormbird
Camberwell Church Street
London
SE5 8TR

THIRD VISIT: SUNDAY 17 AUGUST 2014

After a fairly sedate afternoon after a fairly hardcore couple of days we reached our final destination…

I do enjoy my infrequent visits to Stormbird. The keg and bottle selection is great (but I never pay attention to the cask line-up when I’m here) and very competitively priced. The bar crew are great (despite obvious exceptions). And there’s always a nice and relaxed vibe (although there’s often one or two folk who wear their hat indoors).

The place was quiet but it was difficult finding a place to sit as the sun was belting through the windows at an angle that meant one of us either had to wear their shades or a screwed up face – neither of those options are socially acceptable. But the table up in the corner far away from the front windows was free and shaded so we plonked our asses down there. First drink of the visit was an Odell 5 Barrel. We really don’t see enough Odell in the UK. Odell brew delicious beers. I wish Doug and his crew were based in Croydon instead of Colorado. But, hey, we’ll just have to drink Odell whenever we find it and be thankful. Next up we split a bottle if To Ol’s Black Malt’s and Body Salts – it’s a BIPA, Jim, but not as we know it – and very nice it was too. But it’s a To Ol beer so you wouldn’t really expect it to be anything less than very nice. My mate had a brief chat with one of the staff and discovered there was still some Lost Dog in stock. It was a stunning beer in its early days and we hoped that the ageing process had worked further miracles but, alas, time hasn’t been too kind to it. It certainly wasn’t undrinkable but it tasted a little thin and tired. It was an eleven pound fifty that could have been better invested elsewhere.

Some men in suits wandered in. They seemed slightly out-of-place in a pub in a suit on a Sunday afternoon. I wondered if they were gangsters having a refreshment break before getting back to the thirsty job of collecting protection money. They were probably just kitchen salesman having a celebratory beer after a record-breaking Sunday. And then a pigeon flew in and proceeded to do lengths of the pub. It banged into windows then sat dazed and confused until cajoled into a box then transferred from that box into another box then thrown out of the door. Just a standard Sunday afternoon south of the river.

Time was ticking on and I still had to drag my sorry soul 90 miles west. I ordered a couple of Green Flash West Coast IPAs to bring the weekend’s festivities to a close. It certainly wasn’t the best beer of the weekend but it was decent enough in its own little way. One bus, one tube, one train, one walk later I’d be back home after another successful London sojourn.

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SECOND VISIT: SUNDAY 15 JUNE 2014

We’d been refused entry to the cinema so decided to undertake a little pub crawl. A bus from the city centre took us all the way to Camberwell. As usual we were greeted by an impressive line-up of beers. I started with a Bootlegger DIPA from London Fields, which seemed a little heavy going for that stage of the evening. For drink number two I went for a pint of Gamma Ray, which is undoubtedly the finest pale ale currently available in the UK. Next up was a Magic Spanner by Magic Rock, which was perfectly acceptable but a tad underwhelming. I closed the visit with a Framboise from Kirstall (keeping it Yorkshire), which was fruity. Four beers: one of them great, two of them okay, one of them not quite to my liking. Time to move on…

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FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 19 APRIL 2014

A lot of beer geeks don’t like to venture too far south of the river. Perhaps they’ll visit the Rake or maybe the Draft House by Tower Bridge and, if they are looking to bolster their CBV (Craft Beer Vitae), Beermondsey. Strictly speaking they like to stay were the good beer bars are more frequently encountered and the paths between them are more safely traversed. But if they dare to go where the tubes don’t go they’ll discover the Stormbird of Camberwell, which ranks amongst the best beers bars in the entire city. It’s spacious enough but especially sizeable. And every time I’ve been in there’s been a decent sized crowd in there but it’s never been overcrowded. Décor is age worn wood and muted colours, which is livened up by the logos of various breweries from various countries around the world. Stormbird has a simple and understated style. To me it feels like it belongs on the continent and I can’t help feeling that the punters should be speaking Dutch or Flemish. Whenever I visit Stormbird I long for Amsterdam, which is no bad thing. I’ve never bothered counting how many beer taps the place boasts but I’m guessing it must be somewhere in the region of twenty and the names on those taps are a veritable who’s who of the craft beer world. In the past I’ve enjoyed offerings from Mikkeller, Magic Rock, Ska, Lovibonds, Tiny Rebel and Brodie’s.

We been down Shepherds Bush for a gig – The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s 30th anniversary bash – and had then decamped to BrewDog until kicking out time. As luck would have it a bus runs from the north side of the green which has a final destination of Camberwell. Forty five minutes later we were walking through the door of Stormbird. We were concerned that they wouldn’t serve us so close to locking up time but we were greeted with a warm and pleasant smile. We opted for halves of the Brewfist and To Øl collaboration beer, Space Frontier. It was very tasty but there wasn’t enough of it. I knew we’d only be allowed one more drink so I went for a pint of one of London’s finest brews – Gamma Ray by Beavertown. I gulped it down in big satisfying heroic swigs. It’s a delicious beer and I look forward to the day that when practically every drinking den in London sells it. I would have happily stood in Stormbird drinking Gamma Ray until the sun came up but some guy nearby was trying to score another gin and tonic. He was advised that the bar was now very much closed. Oh well, time to go home.

EUSTON TAP – LONDON

Euston Tap
190 Euston Road
London
NW1 2EF

FIFTH VISIT: SATURDAY 14 JUNE 2014

We’d been at the 229 Club for the C86 night which starred The Wedding Present and The Membranes. It had finished at the reasonably early time of 10.30pm. England were playing their first match of the World Cup that night and consequently the Saturday London streets were nice and quiet. We decided to stop at the Tap for a swift beer before catching a train south of the river. I went for an Burton Ace Edge, which is very possibly one of the UK’s best IPAs. We took a table outside and, as is often the case when you sit outside the Tap, we approached by a beggar. We passed him a few coins in a bid to hasten his departure but it only led to him trying to be friendly by asking if we knew the football score. I didn’t think the game had even kicked off. My friend replied ‘You’re asking the wrong folk, mate, we’re from Scotland.’ The beggar backed off while apologising for any offence he’d caused. The staff had began clearing away the tables so we figured there’d be no chance of a second beer. Home time.

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FOURTH VISIT: MONDAY 5 MAY 2014

I’d wandered from Cannon Street station to BottleDog (via Craft Beer Co on Leather Lane) so I figured I may as well keep wandering up the rest of Grays Inn Road then hang a left until I arrived at the Tap.

It was only an hour and a few minutes into the afternoon but a decent crowd of folk already occuppied the outdoors tables. Inside a few more milled around the downstairs area. The sound emanating from upstairs suggested that two or three people where having a lovely time up there. I ordered a pint of Kernel Amarillo IPA. The walk from BottleDog, thanks to my bottle burden and the bank hoiday sunshine, had been energy sapping. I needed a pint of something with a bit of a chill and a good blast of hops. The Kernel was just the ticket. Certainly not as good as some Kernel IPAs but more than delicious enough to slake my thirst. I had a brief chat with someone who noticed my New Model Army bag. He isn’t a fan but knows a man who is. I popped upstairs to the lavs. They were clean and fresh smelling. The three people occupying the upstairs room started laughing at the exact moment I started peeing. I’m sure it was just a coincidence.

While sitting to the side of the bar it dawned on me that staff in ‘craft’ beer bars no longer seem to discuss the beers with customers with quite as much gusto as they used to. BrewDog staff seem to be the only ones who still relish the chance to share their knowledge (so much so they can sometimes foist it upon people who don’t give really give a shit but are too polite to say so). But that’s not to say the customer service is bad in the Tap because it certainly hasn’t been the four times I’ve visited this year. Perhaps ‘craft’ is finally reaching a peak and these days the majority of people who enter the doors of pubs who specialise in quality beer don’t have a beffuddled expression when they aren’t faced with the words Carling and Guinness so the staff give them some space.

I ordered a half pint of the Siren & To Øl brew Ten Finger Discount. It was the first beer I had when I’d arrived in London on the Friday evening. I decided it was a suitably worthy way to bring my time in the capital to a close.

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THIRD VISIT: SUNDAY 4 MAY 2014

Bank Holiday weekend travel mayhem meant that the most obvious routes from BDCamden to BDShoreditch were dead so after much debate it was more-or-less agreed that we’d catch a bus to Euston, have a beer (or two) at the Tap then get a tube to Liverpool Street then walk or bus it from there.

I perused the keg board and spotted Brew By Numbers 05/01 Amarillo & Citra IPA. I’ve been to the BBN brewery and sampled of couple of their beers while there – they were both pretty fine. And, let’s be honest, it’s still difficult to let an IPA in the 7% ABV territory go untried. I bought a half.

We congregated outside in the Sunday sunshine. Pish was waffled and shite was spouted. Some well-meaning sign alterations took place. The IPA was good. I was tempted to have another. But we all decided to indulge in a half of the mythical Ballwhanger instead. When our balls were suitably whanged some of the party decided it was time to move on the Shoreditch. I decided it was time to cross the road to enter the Euston Cider Tap.

Euston Tap

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SECOND VISIT: THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2014

My visit to the London Drinker Beer & Cider Festival had been a major let down. Time to save the day!

As I entered the premises my view was blocked, in a jovial and friendly way, by some dude who was sporting a beard and a Holborn Whippet t-shirt. It was instantly obvious that he was either a bit pissed or a very excitable chap or, most likely, both. He remarked that he’d noticed me looking at the cask board. It was true, I had been. But I’d just walked through the door and as I done so I been closest to the left hand jamb which means my eyes were naturally drawn to the right. He said he was going to choose a beer for me and the barman was going to do the same and I was to tell them which one I thought was best. I was ordered to turn my back so the barman could pour the samples. I duly obliged. The beers were poured and I was permitted to turn round and try the beers. I picked up the first one and gave it a sniff. It smelled good. It obviously had a decent amount of hops in it and the aroma suggested it would be nice and dry. I picked up the second beer and gave it a sniff. Hold on! Was I being set up here? Both beers had pretty much an identical nose. I picked up the first beer again. Yup, the aroma was the same as the second. I took a swig of the sample. It was okay. There was a decent bit of taste but overall it was a little thin. I swigged the second beer. Yup, no doubt about it. They were different beers. The second beer had a far greater depth of taste and a much more satisfactory level of hopping. I announced that the second beer was by far best. The guy with beard who had set me the challenge was gutted. Evidently the barman was 5-2 in the lead. Once the general hubbub had down I said ‘And after all that I’ll have a pint of Beavertown Gamma Ray.’

I took up position under the seat that was situated closest to the cask beer board. I love Gamma Ray. It is undoubtedly one of London’s finest beers. I look forward to the day when it is as ubiquitous as Carling or Fosters. Some other folk came and went. Nobody else was asked to undertake the cask challenge. The Gamma Ray went down quickly. My experiences at the LDB&CF were starting to fade away. But to make sure they stayed away I ordered a Five O’clock Shadow. Another great beer from another great London brewery. When the Five O’clock was dead. I decided that I would stick with the theme of the visit and go for a Kernel Table Beer. I chatted to the dude with the beard and Holborn Whippet t-shirt and another guy who, coincidentally, had a beard and Holborn Whippet t-shirt about Kernel and the other breweries who are situated a short stroll from the Spa Business Park. They both admitted that they had never made it to Beermondsey. Shame on them. And on that bombshell I drained the remains of my Kernel and hit the road.

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FIRST VISIT: WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH 2014

Do I need to introduce The Euston Tap? Everybody has been there, right? The New York Times has been there. If the New York Times can travel 3,471 miles to visit a bar then there is no excuse for you not getting there from your bedsit in West Peckhamham, is there? No.

From the outside the Tap looks like an interesting by spatially challenged place. But once you step inside you discover that it is… well, it is an interesting and spatially challenged place. A small but cleverly designed bar occupies most of the downstairs room. The bar is home to 15 or so kegged beers and 9 or thereabouts cask beer (I forget the exact figures, soz). Beers are all dispensed from taps situated on the back wall – keg on the top and cask on the bottom. The beers are listed on two blackboards – keg to the left and cask to the right. The cask beers come from unbranded twisting taps. The keg beer handles are all branded but the branding very rarely corresponds to the beer that’s currently flow through each tap. I’ve seen folk look confused when they’ve asked for a Lagunitas and it’s been served from a tap two away from the Lagunitas branded tap. But then they look at the blackboard then count along the taps then nod discreetly but still with slight confusion on their face.

Once you’ve a acquired a beverage you can remain downstairs – although there seems to be less and less seats every time I visit. Or you can pop upstairs to the main seating area, which is worth a visit just so you can walk up and down those stairs. Or if it is a nice day or you don’t mind the cold or the wind or the rain and beggars you can take your beverage outside. The choice is yours. It’s not as vast as the beer choice but is greater than a lot of pubs.

I had some time to kill before heading east to Shoreditch so I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with the Tap. It hadn’t long turned 4 but already the place was rammed. Rammed at 4pm on a Wednesday! What kind of crazy beer sodden life do these Londoners lead? I ordered a Kernel Mosaic IPA. I took it outside and hung around by the pallets of casks and kegs. I couldn’t get the Wifi working, which always pisses me off far more than it should. I took a hit of the Mosaic and smiled at another Kernel success. I carried on drinking and while doing so I soaked in the Euston area architecture. For a brief moment I thought I saw the Chouffe Gnome dashing across the rooftops. Only half way down my first beer of the day and I’m hallucinating gnomes. This Kernel Mosaic is impressive stuff! I gulped down the last of the beer and headed back inside. The place was even more rammed than before. I wasn’t in the mood to queue for a beer that didn’t come with free wifi so I squeezed my glass onto the bar and left.

The Euston Tap was the second ‘craft’ beer bar I visited – the first was Amsterdam’s Beer Temple – and although this visit was very brief it reasserted my belief that the Euston Tap is one of my favourite places to go for a beer. I will return.