Forgive me, as I’m about to go a little overboard with regard to the Independent Manchester Beer Convention. The last two posts I’ve published here on the BeerCast have been about it, and this is the set to be the third. That’s not my usual beer festival M.O. – once I’ve unfolded the crumpled bits of paper and tried to stash the latest tasting glass, I’ll usually cobble together a single post about wherever it is I’ve been. The next step is to then check the internet for posts from others who were also there. This gives me a chance to
desperately scour them for my name get an idea of the general mood, from fellow beer-fans who attended the same festival as I did; completing the picture (particularly with something like IndyMan, which is more a nested series of festivals, buttressed against each other).
After chatting to a few other beer writers and bloggers, and spying a few more from elevated vantage points, I figured there’d be plenty of lunchtime reading material – and so it has proved. The one with the most interesting paragraph however, is this post from Peter ‘Tandleman’ Alexander, who I managed to speak to briefly during the trade day on Friday afternoon. The part of Peter’s post that stood out was this, following a discussion of the £13 ticket price…
You see, for many, IMBC has become a place to be seen at. That’s worth a lot to them as social cachet apparently, but then again, in the non beer world, there are plenty such events and while we may shake our heads about Glyndebourne, Henley Regatta and Last Night of the Proms, if it gives pleasure to attendees and a good time is had, I for one say “Good Luck to Them”.
Like much of Peter’s work, it’s (presumably) written slightly tongue in cheek, but with a serious point underneath. The popular weekend sessions at IndyMan sell out months in advance, and in the run-up to the festival my Twitter feed was fairly spinning with references from people who were going and looking forward to it, or who weren’t going and felt they were missing out. It’s now undoubtedly a hugely popular beer festival. But is it also an elitist beer festival? That’s the spectre that arises by Peter relating IMBC to a list of what many of us would consider to be snootily expensive events attended by largely upper middle class aficionados. At the very least, the implication is that some IndyMan goers might make the trip simply for the sake of being there, rather than for what is on offer when they arrive.
There’s no denying IndyMan has an atmosphere. This, as noted by every writer who attends, is in a large part down to the venue itself. But, I suppose the same could be said about the Albert Hall on the Last Night of the Proms, or the banks of the Thames at regatta time. In this respect, it really is possible to turn up to IMBC and have an interesting time, even if you’re not particularly into beer – or as I sometimes think of it, the ‘would my Mum like this’ paradox. She’s singularly failed to embrace barrel-aged imperial stouts as yet, but I’m fairly sure she’d enjoy exploring the baths, and the associated history of the place. But would she feel out of place? That’s a key point, I think; I’ve no love for classical music, but would I feel uncomfortable if I unfurled a rug at Glyndebourne? *
* Having packed craft cans aplenty, of course.
You could say if people go to IndyMan to be seen, it’s because they value the opinions of their peers, and their ‘social status’ therein. So is there networking and wheeler dealing at IndyMan? I would think so, at the trade session. Are people ostracised for not attending? No, of course not. But one of the three main reasons IMBC has become a highlight of the beery calendar for many – alongside the venue and the beer – is the sheer number of attendees from the ‘craft community’, ‘bloggerati’, or however you care to bundle them. It becomes the perfect time to catch up. Not a place to be seen at, exactly, more a place to reconnect. Is this elitism, then, or simple enthusiasm? The latter, I would say – but then, maybe I’m already part of that ‘elite’, a card-holding ‘craft beer’ cliquer.
Widening the question; is ‘craft beer’ elitist, then? This is different – and much more important – than whether a specific beer festival is. As a movement, the modern British beer scene is fast-multiplying, has an impassioned core audience, plenty of in-jokes and barriers of terminology. But elitism is a charge levied by those on the outside. “It’s elitist! It’s not for us! It’s not inclusive!” If we want this scene to become more mainstream, it cannot be – or be seen to be – this way; you have to make it all-encompassing. Yet one of the key mechanisms of its current success could also be part of the problem; the prevalence within the beer community of social media. All major festivals are now shouted about, a lot (GBBF is no different). Each time one rolls around, it fills the timeline.
Does this constant chatter serve to attract new people to events like IndyMan, or does it serve to keep them away? As those of us inside the beer bubble take festivals like it so much to heart, so quickly, does that simply serve as a cliquish barrier to potential new attendees? Maybe, rather than something like elitism, what Peter was implying with the comparison to Glyndebourne and the like was something more like pretension (I should probably ask him, really – but as you can see it would have been a long email). This is more along the lines of the oft-seen ‘it’s only for hipsters’ jibe, with all the inherent connotations of faddishness and impermanence.
So, no – I don’t think festivals like IndyMan are ‘elitist’, but I can see how their new-found popularity might serve to keep some people from attending. Of course, I could simply be reading entirely too much into a single paragraph in a single blog post. But it certainly made me think, and that’s what the best beer writing should give you.