Indyman Beercon 2019

The blog is back! I’ve been away for a long time because sometimes, life just gets in the way, and these kinds of hobbies are sadly usually the first thing to drop. But following a conversation with my friend Sarah (fellow UK Brewery Tours guide) at last week’s Indyman Beercon in Manchester, I am going to start making much more of an effort to keep up with my writing! So what better to talk about for my first blog back than Indyman itself?

After attending only one session last year and loving it, I knew that this year I wanted to get more immersed in the Indyman experience. When the tickets were released, we bought some for the Friday evening session and Saturday day session (which we planned to use as an excuse to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday with friends). I also applied for trade tickets for the Friday day session due to my involvement with UK Brewery Tours, which I wasn’t expecting to get but I did (wahey!). In a mad moment closer to the festival, I also decided to volunteer for the Sunday session (more on that later).

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Rob (my boyfriend) in the Deya room on Friday

My boyfriend and I booked half days on the Friday of Indyman and managed to get across to Victoria Baths for about 1.00pm. After a year away, it felt great to be back in the stunning and maze-like venue with its high ceilings and hidden rooms. With so many rooms to explore and breweries in attendance, it was hard to know where to start. As I had enjoyed their beer so much at last year’s Indyman, I headed straight over to Other Half where I had their ‘Double mmm…fruit’ – a watermelon and lime sour berliner weisse – one of the many sours I sampled at this year’s Indyman and one of the most unique and memorable. On Sarah’s suggestion, I opted for North’s Golden Milk next – another sour beer but this time made with turmeric. Again, this was unlike any other sour beer I’d had before and I’d be keen to try this one again, as I’m not sure I was able to fully pick out the flavours after having the watermelon sour directly beforehand. This year’s Indyman was packed full of sour beers which was a great thing for me as I am a big fan. Later on in the day I also had The Kernal’s Biere de Saison which I’m pretty sure I’d had before, but admittedly it’s hard for me to see a saison from The Kernal and not order it straight away. Friday was most certainly my ‘sours day’ and I finished off the night with a Kriek from Portland Oregon’s Cascade Brewing which was the perfect end to an evening of great beer, spent with even greater people.

Saturday we were back bright and early for the day session. Most of the first half hour was spent trying to round up our friends, as we’d bought lots of tickets for this session to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday. Once everyone had arrived, tokens at the ready, we began to explore again, and I was determined to branch out and try something a little bit more outside my comfort zone. That opportunity came, when I spotted a black lager by Creature Comforts called ‘The Solent World’. I am partial to a lager from time to time – I had a fantastic pilsner recently by PFriem which was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever tasted – it sounds weird to describe a lager as ‘buttery’ but this one seriously was. But a black lager? I’d never had anything like that before and I wasn’t disappointed. It was probably the most drinkable and interesting beer I had all festival. After a short pause to buy a jumper from Pomona Island that I couldn’t resist, I was back to the sours again with an elderberry and redcurrent saison from Runaway Brewery. I’ve talked about how much I like Runaway before on this blog and I think their saisons are hard to beat. We don’t get as much chance to visit their taproom now we live outside the city centre, but I’m determined to make a stop there again soon. The last beer I noted down (before all my efforts to keep track went out of the window) was Donzoko’s Genever Red (8.2%!). I love a flanders red ale, possibly one of my favourite styles, so I’m not too unhappy to have stopped my recording there (N.B. more beers were definitely consumed).

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Having a great time with my fellow UK Brewery Tours guides (L-R, Simon, Sarah, Debbie and me)

I woke up surprisingly fresh on Sunday and raring to go for my volunteering session. The Sunday at Indyman is known for being the ‘chilled out’ session, so although I was feeling pretty good, I headed over to Victoria Baths hoping that would be the case. Kat and Becca, two of the organisers, did a really good job of trying to make sure we had a good time and aimed to place us with breweries that we liked. I was pleased to be assigned to the Deya room for the day to help out on the bar and it was nice to know that they had tried their best to match us to breweries we had said that we liked on our application forms (obviously not always possible, but it was a nice touch). The two brewers I was working alongside on the Deya bar were completely exhausted, but helpful and showed me the ropes. I’ve never served on a bar before and it made me realise how tiring it is. I’ve always had respect for bar staff; however it’s given me a new found appreciation for what they do. We only had 6 beers on the Deya bar on Sunday and I was only on my feet for 4.5 hours in total, but it was still really hard work. Imagine having to remember where everything is in a fully stocked bar of beers, wines, spirits and other beverages? Overall it was a great experience and I’d definitely be keen to volunteer again. It felt good to be serving people while they are having a great time and it was really nice to bump into a few people that I know too.

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Rob in one of the stalls on Saturday

After taking part in the clean-up operation once the session ended at 6.00pm, I went home with tired feet but a happy feeling of being part of something really amazing. It may be the end of Indyman for another year, however I have plenty of “beery” events coming up – loads more festivals, tours and blog ideas.

 

 

Bruges: De Halve Maan Brewery

I’ve been so busy again recently that I’ve barely had any time for writing. Works been hectic and my boyfriend and I are trying to buy a house, so that’s also taking up a lot of our attention right now. I’m going to have to start writing more again though, as there are so many great events and beer festivals coming up  in Manchester over the next few months! Before I get back to writing about more local beer though, I am going to finally write about our fantastic trip to the De Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges this summer.

I first heard about De Halve Maan Brewery from reading this Buzzfeed article about the two mile, underground beer pipeline that transports beer from the brewery in central Bruges to the bottling plant outside the city. Ever since reading that article I’d been really keen to visit the brewery, and of course I’d already sampled De Halve Maan’s wonderful Brugse Zot, so was excited to taste it again straight from the source.

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Entrance to De Halve Maan Brewery

We decided to book on to the Deluxe tour which was €19 each and included a guided tasting of three beers. The standard tour is cheaper and is about an hour quicker, so is a good option if you don’t have much time or need to stick to a budget. You also still get to try Brugse Zot unfiltered – the only place where you can do so. We booked in advance, but most people appeared to show up on the day to join a tour.

When you first arrive, it feels a lot more commercial than a lot of other breweries – mainly because there are so many people – but once you get inside the brewery itself it feels very different. A complete contrast between much newer, shinier equipment and the older, traditional parts of the brewery. Our Tour Guide, Ann, was extremely knowledgeable and took us through much of the history of the brewery, as well as the specifics of Belgian brewing. Ann’s vast knowledge and enthusiasm really made the tour feel special and she was happy to take questions and give recommendations.

One part of the tour that was unexpected but definitely one of the highlights was climbing the staircase up to the very top of the brewery and taking in the view of Bruges. It was spectacular and controversially, I thought the view from the brewery was even better than from the Belfry which we had climbed earlier that day. A word of caution though for anyone not comfortable with climbing lots of stairs or being in confined spaces – there are lots of steps that are quite steep and hard to climb (even harder to climb down because they are very narrow). Fortunately there are a few areas to rest along the way!

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View from the roof

The final part of the tour was the best bit – tasting the beer! We were led down to the brewery tasting room which had an traditional feel with dark mahogany furniture. It’s very much like how you would imagine an old beer hall to be. We were then taken through a guided tasting of the unfiltered Brugse Zot, Dubbel, Triple or Quadruple (you can choose whether to have the Triple or Quadruple, but if you are in a couple or with a  friend choose one each so you can try both!).

Ann expertly guided us through the tour, even telling us what cheese you should pair with each different style. She inspired us to plan our own Belgian beer and cheese night, which I can’t wait to organise! Apparently the Dubbel and Tripel goes well with a lighter, creamy cheese like a brie or camembert, whereas the stronger Quadruple complements a strong blue cheese. It was also interesting taking part in the tasting as a group because everyone seemed to have a different experience and favoured certain beers over others. I really enjoyed the Dubbel for instance, but quite a few people on our table found that they couldn’t finish theirs (I wasn’t complaining…). The unfiltered Brugse Zot was also amazing – so much more satisfying that the version you find more readily across Belgium. Unfortunately you don’t get to see the infamous two mile beer pipe, however Ann told us that she gets a lot of questions about it!

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The beer recommended to us by Ann

Following our tour, we decided to stay in the De Halve Maan bar for a little longer. My boyfriend had loved the Tripel we had tried and was also wearing a t-shirt he had bought at Cantillon Brewery in Brussels (well known for their lambic beers brewed with wild yeast), so Ann recommended another beer to him that she thought he’d like – the Straffe Hendrik Bruges Tripel ale, re-fermented with a wild “Brettanomyces” yeast. It was delicious. She also brought over a leaflet for us about the beer with the full description and information about how it was made. We really appreciated this and were really struck by how passionate and attentive Ann was as a tour guide. She clearly loves her job and we feel very lucky that she guided us through our trip to De Halve Maan.

So if you ever find yourself in Bruges, make sure you visit the De Halve Maan Brewery – it will be well worth your time. Even if you don’t have time for a tour, make sure you order an unfiltered Brugse Zot and sit in the brewery’s lovely outdoor bar and watch the world go by.