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).

IMG_4728 (1)
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).

Indyman
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.

IMG_4742
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.

 

 

Zwanze Day 2018 at The Pilcrow, Manchester

IMG_3067
Zwanze Day at The Pilcrow Poster

Sticking with the Belgian theme for just one more blog post, I am going to write about Cantillon Zwanze Day which took place at my local Manchester pub, The Pilcrow, on Saturday 29 September. The Zwanze series from Cantillon Brewery (Brussels, Belgium) began in 2008 with the release of a special lambic beer with added rhubarb. Ever since then, Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy has used the series, and the celebration days organised around it, to bring lovers of lambic beers together around the world. Now ten years in to the series, this was my first ever Zwanze day and seeing as it was at our local and favourite Manchester pub, we couldn’t resist getting tickets.

 

IMG_3066
Garage, Silver Peel

The event began at 12.00pm on the Saturday, however as we had friends visiting that day we didn’t arrive at The Pilcrow until around 6.00pm. The Zwanze was not pouring until 8.00pm, so this gave us plenty of time to try out the rest of the lambic-inspired beers on offer that day. The Pilcrow still has it’s large yellow tent up outside the pub, which has been used for many events during the summer months, and the majority of the beers were being served from inside the tent. You needed to buy tokens from the bar if you wanted beers from outside (£2.50 per token), so we got a few each to begin with. Cantillon beers were two tokens each (I imagine because of the costs to bring the beer to the UK) but all the other beers were one token. I started off with the Cantillon Iris, a traditional lambic which is dry and tart, with a slight floral taste. It was delicious and I was pleased that I had the chance to try it as it had not been available when we visited the brewery itself back in July. I followed this with a Oude Kriek Boon, as I love the Kriek style so always take the opportunity to have one when I can.

IMG_3068
Wylam, Fruits of Perception

As well as a large selection of Cantillon brews, there were also lots of sour and lambic-inspired beers from a range of UK brewers. The Wild Beer Co had plenty on offer, many of which were very intriguing such as their Rosa Rouge Saison which was really well balanced and had a nice level of tartness to it. We also tried their Sourdough Berliner Weisse which we were pleasantly surprised by, as although we were keen to try it, we weren’t convinced it would work. It was actually quite light and refreshing. We were expecting it to have a stronger bread taste, but the fact it didn’t is probably a good thing. Personal favourites from the non-Cantillon beers we tried were Silver Peel, a sour Berliner Weisse from Garage Beer Co from Barcelona (really light, fragrant but very sour. Definitely packs a punch!) and Fruits of Perception by Wylam from Newcastle, UK which I found to be quite unique compared to other sours I’ve had (I also couldn’t quite place the fruit, but possibly apricot – very nice). I know that sour beers are not for everyone, but for sour lovers like me, this event was a brilliant opportunity to try lots of interesting and harder-to-come-by styles.

IMG_3075As it approached 8.00pm, we joined the queue to receive our Cantillon Zwanze 2018. While we waited we had a good chat with a few lambic-enthusiasts who had only just returned from visiting the brewery in Brussels. They also told us about how you can only purchase a certain amount of bottles of Cantillon beer from the brewery every year (something we didn’t know) and apparently they have a way of tracking past purchases on your card so they know if you’ve already reached your limit for that year. We also saw two men with two wristbands each (you had to exchange your tickets for a wristband when you arrived). They must have been very keen to try this years Zwanze!

IMG_3071
Zwanze 2018 lambic and glass

Once we received our Zwanze, it was worth the wait. This years version was a blend of two year old lambic matured in first use italian wine barrels. It was really tart and so flavourful. You could definitely taste the wine and the time it spent maturing in the barrels. We received a third measure and sadly we got through ours way too quickly – we definitely could have had more if we’d had the chance to. There is definitely a level of excitement to having a beer you know you will never have again though. As much as I value having my ‘go-to’ beers that I’ll come back to time and time again, it’s a special experience to have something that has taken so much time and effort and you will never have again. And I guess there’s always next year?

I had never heard of Zwanze day before this year and I’m glad that The Pilcrow got the chance to host it, as it’s a really fantastic little pub. Over the next few weeks/months I’ll be writing about loads more local events – the next one being Indyman Beer Con 2018, which I’ll be attending tonight. Perhaps see you there?

Brussels: Moeder Lambic, Cantillon and Brussels Beer Project

I’ve had a bit of a blogging hiatus over the summer, but now I’m back and I’ve got plenty of things to write about!

Towards the end of July my boyfriend and I went to Belgium on holiday and really fell in love with the place. The first stop on our trip was the capital city, Brussels. I’ve always wanted to go to Brussels however I didn’t really know what to expect because a lot of people have told me in the past that it’s not the most exciting city to visit. I have to say that they were all wrong! Brussels exceeded my expectations and it is now definitely up there in my top favourite cities. We are already thinking about going back for a long weekend because we loved it so much. I would highly recommend a visit to anyone, however for the beer lovers out there it’s an absolute must.

We were fortunate enough to stay in a hotel in central Brussels, so it was very easy to get around. Brussels is a very walkable city, as long as you have some decent shoes to wear – the cobbled roads and pavements can take their toll otherwise! Something that really surprised me about Brussels (due to what I had been told) was how beautiful it is – the main square is very grand and really takes you aback when you first stumble across it. The streets in the very centre of Brussels are quite narrow and small which means that the main square is quite hidden away, so you really don’t see it clearly until you get right up to it. As well as tourist information and a multitude of chocolate shops, you can also find the Belgian Beer Brewers Museum. Yes, that’s how much this country loves its beer – the brewing museum takes centre stage in the main square! The museum is small and doesn’t take long to look around but for €5 it’s well worth a visit, even if only for the beer you get at the end. You get a choice of a light beer or a dark beer and both are excellent.

IMG_2812
One of many delicious beers enjoyed at Moeder Lambic

Another place that all beer lovers should visit when in Brussels is Moeder Lambic – a fantastic bar serving craft beers, as well as more traditional Belgian brews. We visited the “Fontainas” location, however there is also the “original” Moeder Lambic in the south of the city which we didn’t get to visit this time but we will definitely go in future. Moeder Lambic has a standard menu which has a wide range of more traditional brews, but also has a list of guest kegs which change all the time including breweries from Belgium and beyond. We tried quite a few beers from Quebec based breweries during our visits, as well as many from Belgium of course. The staff in Moeder Lambic are extremely friendly and knowledgeable and with every beer you get a little bowl of roasted malt to snack on – so delicious. We were only in Brussels for three days but we just kept going back to Moeder Lambic – we will definitely keep coming back to this place.

We also visited two breweries while in Brussels – both very different from each other but both amazing. We visited Cantillon Brewery first, which exclusively brews Lambic beers. Cantillon was one of more than one hundred operating breweries in Brussels when it was founded, but was the only one to remain operational through the 2000s. It’s a fascinating place to visit, but you need to keep your eye on your map because it’s easy to miss. For €7 you get a quick explanation of the brewing process at Cantillon (Lambic beers are brewed using only naturally occurring yeast), followed by a self-guided tour where you can look at all the brewing equipment (which is still all in use, despite being very old).

IMG_2877
The Fou’Foune and Mamouche we drank at Cantillon

Once you’ve finished looking round the brewery, you also get to choose two beers to try from the bar. I had a pure Lambic followed by a Kriek – both fantastic. When you’ve had your two beers as part of your entrance fee, visitors are welcome to stay for longer and purchase sharing bottles from the bar. We stayed and had two bottles between us, the first was the Fou’Foune which is a lambic with soaked apricots and the second was Mamouche, a lambic infused with elderflower. It’s a great place to go and spend a few hours as you end up talking to so many people. We got chatting to a guy from Portland, Oregon (where we visited last summer, so had plenty to talk about), a girl from Indiana who now lives in Madrid and another young American traveller who had just come from Ghent. Cantillon is definitely worth visiting if you can, it really is a unique experience. Unlike most Belgian beers, all Cantillon beers are 5% which is pretty low for Belgium, so it’s also a good place to go if you want to avoid the really strong brews.

IMG_2835
Juice Junkie New Zealand IPA

The second brewery we visited was a much more modern experience – Brussels Beer Project. We were due to leave for Bruges on the day we visited Brussels Beer Project but we waited around until it opened at 2.00pm (BBP is only open 2-10pm Thursday to Saturday). It was definitely worth the wait. Brussels Beer Project began in 2013 with the aim to collaborate in order to become more innovative and daring and offer a more modern take on Belgian craft brewing. We had picked up a flyer in the tourist information centre which offered us a free taster beer, so we started with that. I chose the Juice Junkie – a hazy New Zealand IPA. We didn’t have much time unfortunately but we decided to stay for another one, I had the Grosse Bertha, a Belgian Hefeweizen. Both were delicious and I really didn’t want to leave but we had to go and catch our train. We can’t wait to come back to Brussels so we can come back to Brussels Beer Project and spend much longer there. We will be back soon!

 

Thanks for reading about my amazing trip to Brussels. There’s so much more I could say but this blog is already over 1,000 words. I look forward to writing more about this great city and it’s amazing beer scene soon. Look out for my next blog which will be all about our beer travels in Bruges.