With just over a month to go before Indy Man Beer Con 2015 kicks off at Manchester’s iconic Victoria Baths, Northern Soul chats to co-founder Jonny Heyes.
“I had an embargo after the last one. I said I wasn’t going to even discuss Indy Man at all until about February. I had three or four months refusing to talk about it.”
For co-founder Jonny Heyes, Indy Man Beer Con is a real labour of love. And four years on from its 2011 launch it’s now bigger than ever. This year there’ll be about 30 per cent more people than in previous years – about 1,000 punters for each of the six sessions – and they’re expanding things out the back.
“There’ll be street food traders and a bit of shelter and a bar and everything kind of outside, which is quite exciting,” Heyes says. “We tested it last year and it worked really well. So we’re enlarging that a bit.”
That al fresco expansion means the inside of the baths will be all about what Indy Man is really famous for, the beer. And there’ll be a change to how they’re presented too. In the past all the beers have been available over the same bar. This year it’ll be more about each brewery having its own distinct area, something that’s designed to give paying customers more chance to meet the men and women behind the brews.
“We’re kind of going back to a few of the first principles we did the first year,” Heyes explains. “The idea behind putting the beers together was that it was democratic and you had first-timers rubbing shoulders with these amazing international brewers. But from the customers’ point of view I think that made it a bit more difficult to seek out the particular person that they might want to ask a question. So there’ll be a bit more of that.”
There’ll also be more DJs providing the music this year, as opposed to the bands that have been the main source of entertainment during Indy Mans in the past. “It’s partly so we can clear a bit more space so we can have more beer and various other things. And also because we wanted to mix it up a little bit. The primary thing is the beer so we want to make sure we can put that resource improving that side of it.”
On top of old favourites like pop-up tastings, one-off collaboration beers with some of the breweries taking part and talks from some of the top names in the craft beer world, they’re hoping to have a “few surprises” in 2015, including a mini canning line which will allow punters to fill up one or more cans with whatever they want before taking them away.
The biggest change, though, is the number of paying punters, up by about a third on previous years. So will it make it more cramped?
“It won’t actually feel that much busier. One thing that people have said that’s really positive about Indy Man is that you’ve got space to breathe. I think last year we maybe had a bit too much space because we opened up outside. This year it’s going to be much bigger outside so I think everyone will be a bit more spread out. So in terms of density overall it will feel about the same.”
Ticket sales have done well so far. Despite a distinct lack of promotion on their part (that kicks off in earnest in September), the peak sessions are already sold out. Saturday night sold out in about 24 hours, with Saturday day and Friday following suit soon after, and they expect to be completely sold out well in advance.
So with all the success of the current set-up, would they ever create a second Indy Man somewhere else?
“It’s something we’ve talked about. But it’s a bit of a labour of love in some ways. We sort of pour ourselves into it as an event and after it you feel kind of spent. And the thought of then having to dive straight into organising another one is kind of exciting but a bit daunting at the same time.”
And what about the venue? Would they consider moving? Unlikely. “The venue itself plays quite a big part in the feel of the festival. It’s got its difficulties logistically, like it doesn’t have massive doors you can just wheel stuff in through. You’ve got to pick everything up and carry it in, which is a bit of a nightmare, but it’s just such an impressive space and there’s something nice about the juxtaposition about a load of people drinking beer in a swimming pool.”
Main image by Gary Brown