The boys of The Swan go in search of new brews at Indyman – and survive with scary tales of ‘Slush Puppy IPA’ and Sea Salt Cider
Today we have a very different beer landscape from when the choice was bitter, best bitter or mild. Some might say that beery life was much simpler then; you just went to the pub that served the beer you liked best.
Of course many younger imbibers have no recall of those unsophisticated days. They have become used to a veritable cornucopia of choice when venturing for a tipple or two (although research shows the number is diminishing among young millennials).
Whether die-hard cask lovers like it or not – and I count myself among them – craft keg ale is rising, driven by a burgeoning demand from consumers for new taste experiences and ‘provenance’ in their food and drink.
The Swan has already brought you more than one hundred varieties of cask brews, since opening last April. But such is the dedication of David and Jack that they selflessly went off to booming beer town Manchester in an intrepid trip to seek out new ales and explore the craft keg beer scene.
The fearless duo headed off by train from Wrenbury’s own wee train station to arrive intent on taking in the pioneering Indyman Beer Festival- which specialises in keg brews.
But first was a call on the splendid Marble Arch pub, located in the now rapidly developing area of the once down at heel Rochdale Road. Some 25 minutes’ walk from the Piccadilly station, it is a must venue for every pub and beer lover visiting the city.
Grade II listed, this hostelry is a throwback to grandiose Victorian era and renowned for its glazed tilework and sloping mosaic floor. It’s now owned by Marble Brewery, brewers of some excellent beers like Pint and Lagonda IPA for both cask and keg. Here they discovered the cask ‘Petite IPA’ that comes in at just 2.8%abv. David says this is “Full of hoppy flavour and it’s very hard to tell that the strength is so low.”
Brewers are working hard to come up with low alcohol beers these days, so they may have found a gem here to meet the concerns of the ever vigilant health lobby and help those who need to drive to enjoy a couple of pints.
Strong stout for starters
At the other end of the spectrum, was the keg Boundary Export Stout at 9%abv, bravely tackled by David early in the day. “I think this was the best option to start the day and at £5 for a half it prepared my wallet as well,” he says, somewhat philosophically.
The boys manfully carried on: “After sampling a few halves in the Marble Arch we made our way to the festival, a 45 minute walk, so we were hoping to find other pubs to pop into but only found Wetherspoon’s and a Walkabout.”
Never mind, the venue for the Indyman is the Victoria swimming baths, a splendid Victorian edifice, complete with the old pool side changing cubicles and winding corridors, where pools are drained for events like this. It’s a wonderfully historic venue for what is a very modern festival, complete with music, a huge choice of street exotic food and bean bag areas for relaxing. Ok, if you are not wearing a flat cap, dripping with tattoos and ironmongery you may feel a little out of place at first – I did when I went – but really it’s very welcoming.
“The majority of the brewers were housed in the pools but some had their own spots in the smaller rooms dotted around. I felt the need to throw away the map and just adventure through them all”.
All beers cost one Indy coin for a third – everyone is issued with their own Indyman stemmed third glass. Ten Indy coins are £26, which may sound expensive but if you consider the first beer David tried was an Imperial Campfire Porter at 10.5% from Box Social then perhaps it isn’t actually that bad!
David & Jack ploughed on for some fascinating finds. David comments: “The beers on offer were not for the traditionalist. This was a chance for brewers to really push the boundaries and show off their creative brewing abilities. There was even a soft serve beer that I tried; Original Double Vanilla Ice Cream IIPA from Buxton & Omnipollo. That’s right….beer served like a slush puppy almost. Very different. Not that practical for a pub! It was very tasty though.
“Sticking with the dark beers we also sampled “Millionaire” by Wild Beer Company. A chocolate salted caramel milk stout at 4.7%. I’ve discovered that the addition of salt to beer and cider creates an amazing new flavour but one that you couldn’t have a session on.”
And they discovered another low ABV beer – Sunshine Radler 2.8%.
‘refreshing summer beer with huge orange flavours’.
Cider came up strong too says David: “After wandering and sampling some interesting beers, as a cider maker myself, I settled into a conversation with Allen from Hogan’s Cider. He had an amazing sea salt cider. Not something you could have a session on, but it would be nice to have a third or half to break up the normal routine.
“I was so impressed I requested a sample of his draught cider to consider for the pub and also a bottle of his “High Sobriety” 1% cider. I’ve tasted both of these and they really do not disappoint. The draught cider is a true traditional cider with lots of apple flavour and would impress any keg cider drinker in my opinion. The 1%abv cider is outstanding. You really can’t tell it has such low alcohol.”
Already the Swan has ventured into craft keg beers and David and Jack were very impressed with the festival – ‘the rock n roll tear away of beer festivals’ they thought; so expect more adventures with cider, craft keg and cask beers soon. But don’t worry, flat caps and earrings won’t be compulsory.