Indyman Beer Con took place last week, over four days in the lovely surroundings of Victoria Baths. I was back for my third time, but this year the atmosphere was marred by the spectre of the almighty Pound, and the question of whether chasing the cash was leading to IMBC pricing out its most loyal supporters. If you don’t want to read about that, skip to the last paragraphs where I actually talk about beers. Go on, it’s fine. Anyone still here? Okay, let’s begin.
The first stirrings of dissent began when IMBC this year announced that the minimum spend on tokens would be £25, as all beers would cost one token (working out at £2.27 for ⅓.). As so many pointed out this meant that prices would almost hit an eye-watering £7 per pint, all of this on top of the admission cost of nearly £15 a ticket. The glass size of ⅓ was also new.
It’s unusual to drink full pints of any beer at a festival like IMBC because of the experimental brews coupled with the strength of the beers, and the fact that the only glass is a ⅓. So extrapolating the cost of one beer is not a fair way to look at the cost of the pint. The weird decision was the lack of any kind of pricing scale, so you either buy £25 worth of tokens (which totalled 11), or singles at the unappetising price of £2.50 each. I went with a friend so we bought 12 tokens and split them, giving us two pints each for the whole festival. We ran out at about 8pm and then had to go back for more which meant that between us we spent £37.50. Then there was the food…
You could buy a whole £25 worth of tokens for yourself and spend some of them on food, but you’re cleverly trapped into a food pricing system that would close down an average bar. £7.50 for a cheeseburger, £10 for pie and mash, and on it went. We ended up being saved by the brilliant Epicerie Ludo which sold us half a baguette, three massive slabs of cheese, saucisson and chutney for £5. There was so much cheese we had to gleefully take it home wrapped in napkins.
All in all, attending IMBC cost us a whopping £38.75 each just for entry, tokens and food. Compare this with the recent newbie Left Bank Beer Festival where entry was £4 (£2 for CAMRA members) and where many beers were £2 a pint. For food you were free to leave and re-enter the venue or eat in the cafe of the venue, The People’s Museum, where you struggle to spend £7.50 in total never mind on a single item. No-one is suggesting that it’s not good value to charge the equivalent of £2.27 for ⅓ of a 13% beer, but the message sent by asking the average punter to drop nearly £40 on a beer festival night out is that if you can’t pay, you’re not welcome.
And let’s face it, maybe some of us aren’t. Punter Annie Kelly commented “Maybe you should have an age limit [to] stop all the grumpy old men complaining about prices!” And the next reviewer agreed. “I love the idea of a ban on grumpy old men. If you want cheap pints and no music there’s always Wetherspoons!” Nothing classist about that! Sod off back to Wetherspoons you proles, we’re trying to have a beer festival here! I’m not grumpy, old, or a man. But I like seeing grumpy old men, and women, at beer festivals. So often it’s been the likes of them that have campaigned and championed ‘craft’ beer when the whole world seemed intent on wiping them from the bar menu in favour of mass produced piss. Now they’re not welcome at the party they started.
It can’t even be called elitism. The elite of the beer world are surely those who are time served, who have put in their hours at their local CAMRA branch, and display their ‘passion’ the old fashioned way, by doing stuff for free and without a sniff of compensation, like writing to their MP about beer taxation and supporting their local pub. They are the most knowledgeable, the most experienced, the best of us. You can meet them at Left Bank and other local festivals, but you won’t see them at Indyman. I think that’s a shame.
Of the twenty most recent reviews on the IndyMan Facebook page over half mentioned the price, with phrases like ‘rip off’ and ‘priced out’ being bandied about, and four people saying they wouldn’t be coming back. A drop in the ocean I’m sure but then not everyone who went and couldn’t afford it would bother reviewing on Facebook, they just won’t come back. And no-one will notice because the festival will sell out next year too. No point in yelling over the sound of cash registers.
Anyway, on to the beers. Siren brewery was the first stop, for a Blacklight Banana which was yummy, and probably for a 9.2% imperial stout not the best to kick-off on but I regret nothing. The Siren set up in the Pineapple Room was a nice hideaway from the madness and I coveted one of their sweatshirts but I had already remortgaged my beermat collection on tokens so maybe next year. (I also checked in Siren’s VIPA on untappd later in the night but I don’t remember it. Take it as a compliment.)
Next up was Danish brewer To Øl for Roses Are Brett, which is listed as a saison at 6%. I do love a raspberry beer and this was no exception. It had the added bonus of reminding me of my teen music crush, Brett Anderson from Suede. I then went lazily to the next table and had a Rex Attitude smoked beer by Yeastie Boys which was delicious, and came with a warning from the barkeep that it was ‘intense’ and that I might like to test it first. He wasn’t to know my wishlist reads Salty Sour Smoked at any bar.
Mondo Brewing had their Figgie Smalls Belgian Strong on offer, thank goodness as I remember everything else on their board being pale. At 8.9% it’s another one which turned out as good value on the new token system. My favourite beer of the night was the beautiful Strawblender from The Wild Beer Co. who were outside in a marquee. Absolutely lovely sour ale which I wanted much much more of, but on limited tokens as we were I moved onto Redchurch Brewery and their Lemon and Sage saison. I certainly got the lemon, not sure about the sage, but I do love a saison so I was happy.
Quick shout out to Simply Hops who were there promoting .. hops and gave us a very interesting talk on the different varieties. (Sorry I tried to eat some, but it didn’t make me sick like you said it would.) Also to the offy where we got a going home beer of Dragon Stout from Desnoes and Geddes for £1.80 each.