Tuesday, 6 March 2018


There has been a great deal of discussion about offensive branding in the beer industry recently. Not that it's a new thing. Some of us have been talking about it for years. But it is certainly gaining momentum now. In the current social climate people have less and less tolerance for discrimination and exclusion. After all, it really isn't asking all that much to treat everyone equally is it?

The current code is up for review this year

At the Brewer's Congress in November 2017 the Portman Group was referenced in numerous presentations. Speakers from breweries whose products had been reported to the Portman Group for breaching their Code of Practice (on Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks) discussed the process of responding to these complaints.

Beavertown and Tiny Rebel had both been reported to the Portman Group by members of the public for issues with their packaging. Almost identical complaints were received, referencing the sections of the code relating to clear labelling of a beverage as alcoholic, antisocial behaviour, immoderate consumption (NB only against Tiny Rebel), and having particular appeal to under 18s. In short, the implication was that these 330ml brightly coloured cans featuring stylised cartoonish art work might lead to children wanting to drink them. The complaint against Beavertown was ultimately not upheld but the one against Tiny Rebel was.

To be clear, the Tiny Rebel and Beavertown presentations were not specifically about these complaints but they certainly formed part of the story they were telling. I would like to think that they were shared at the Congress for the wider benefit of those in the industry who could learn from these experiences.

Later on we had Alistair Taylor from the Advisory Service at the Portman Group give a presentation on the role of the organisation and how they can benefit breweries. Essentially they exist to regulate the packaging of alcoholic products via their code of practice. In hindsight, there was nothing wrong with the overall message in this presentation - publicising their role and explaining how they can help breweries is definitely something the Portman Group should be doing. But in the heat of the moment this message was a little lost.

When the presentation displayed a complaint about a beer (Wye Valley Brewery's Dorothy Goodbody's Wholesome Stout) which had been reported for breaching section 3.2 (d) of the code (a drink should not... 'suggest any association with sexual activity or sexual success') this was greeted with disbelief by the audience. The Congress had begun that day with Jaega Wise's presentation on women in the beer industry, including many examples of offensive packaging: this audience was not prepared to sit back and accept that this particular complaint had not been upheld because the packaging didn't breach the code.

A complaint from 2008 which was not upheld

If the audience found the packaging offensive then how could this not be in violation of the code? The answer is that the code in its current form mentions sexual references on beer packaging only within narrow margins: a product should not suggest that it makes the consumer more attractive or that it leads to 'sexual success' which is actually quite an unpleasant sounding, masculine phrase. Possibly even a little dated.

When I started reading through previous complaints I was shocked to see that the Wye Valley Brewery complaint is the only one the Portman Group have ever received concerning sexist packaging. I have seen and heard many complaints about lots of different examples of sexist and offensive packaging. If by any chance you haven't seen enough of these already you need only visit Pumpclip Parade. It seems unbelievable that only one of these examples has ever been reported to the Portman Group. Is that because people are not aware of the role of the organisation? Are they unaware that members of the public can report products directly? Or is it because even if they did report a product the code isn't fit (in its current state) to deal with these complaints?

In January Jaega Wise was announced as elected south east director of SIBA. On February 27th a press release from SIBA stated their intent to create a marketing code of practice for their members. There will be an industry discussion on this topic at the BeerX conference this month. Entries to SIBA competitions are already screened to exclude any offensive product branding and in the future this could be extended to all beers sold by SIBA members.

A CAMRA statement from December 2017 by their National Executive they are in agreement with SIBA that sexist branding is not going to be tolerated at their festivals or in publications.

"We abhor sexism and will take action against any CAMRA member who, by their words or acts, is disrespectful of any individual because of their gender. We expect the behaviour of those who work with us, whether in campaigning or at our events, to be consistent with our values. We condemn those who use sexist images or slogans to market their products and will not condone them being stocked at our beer festivals or promoted in our competitions and publications.” 

In the United States, as with all things craft beer, they are ahead of us in tackling this issue. The Brewers Association updated their marketing code of practice in April 2017 to include an additional two lines, stating that beer advertising and marketing materials should not:

i. contain sexually explicit, lewd, or demeaning brand names, language, text, graphics, photos, video, or other images that reasonable adult consumers would find inappropriate for consumer products offered to the public; 

j. contain derogatory or demeaning text or images."

I think it would be desirable to include something similar to this in the Portman Group code of practice.

On Wednesday 28th February I attended a meeting at the Portman Group to discuss how their code might evolve to reflect the current climate with respect to offensive branding of alcoholic products. The code undergoes review every five years and the 12 week consultation period will open shortly (likely to be April to June). Anybody is welcome to express their views. So I would encourage anyone with an interest to get involved and have their say.

Any changes to the code will require the existing guidance notes to be rewritten in order to support the code. This means we are not likely to see the new code in action until the end of 2018 at the earliest. But this time next year we might have a code which is fit for purpose.

Hopefully we will reach a broad consensus across the industry with the Portman Group code providing a minimum standard which all producers of alcohol are required to meet, with a similar marketing codes from SIBA, and supportive policies from CAMRA and the London Brewers Alliance. It is important that all relevant groups are on the same page otherwise we might end up in a position where a particular product's branding is deemed acceptable by one group but not by another.

It is no coincidence that the Advertising Standards Agency conducted an evidence-based review of gender stereotyping in advertising last year. You can read the full report here Depictions, Perceptions and Harms. It's very interesting stuff. If you dislike those product adverts on TV which display men as incapable of performing the simplest of household tasks, you're going to like this.

The times, they are a-changing. Finally.

Further evidence that we are all heading in the same direction is provided by two recent examples of breweries deciding to change their product branding in response to numerous complaints on social media. Both breweries were experiencing reputational damage from the complaints they received but they chose to resolve the issue in different ways.

Castle Rock's Elsie Mo is a golden ale which first appeared in 1998, featuring 'pin up' artwork on the pump clip. In 2007 the brewery chose to digitally enhance the pin up a la Lara Croft and then in 2014 they decided to 'modernise' the artwork to show a woman in a pilot's uniform, kicking up her legs to reveal stockings and suspenders. Eventually in January 2018 Elsie Mo became a pilot, who can be seen flying a plane (whilst fully clothed). You can read the full story directly from the brewery.

Station 119, a Suffolk brewery founded in 2014, also chose to go down the pin up route with their branding. Here is their description of the original imagery on their packaging.

Our labels take inspiration from the WW2 tradition of decorating the airplane noses which helped to popularise pinup art. This art form is considered by many to be a positive post-Victorian rejection of bodily shame and a healthy respect for female beauty.

Following some criticism of their branding at the close of 2017 the brewery opted to change their labels - not because they felt they got it wrong the first time, but because it was affecting sales.

Some of the responses to these positive changes made by breweries have been predictable but are still a little disappointing. The title of this blog post is a direct quote made in response to the Station 119 Facebook post announcing their new branding. Sure, it's laughable that some people think that way, and yes these dinosaurs are in the minority, but in too many cases there is a spiky barb of misogyny underneath. So the work is far from over.

I've saved you the trouble of reading the comments on the DM article

However, I feel more positive about this issue than I have for a long time. Yes, there is a (decreasing) minority of people who want to live in the past but regardless of their outdated views, we are moving on. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Art of Communication

The inaugural Brewers Congress took place on Monday 27th November at One Great George Street, London - home to the headquarters of the Institution of Civil Engineers; a suitably grand venue for an ambitious event which brought together producers, manufacturers, people in sales and hospitality and, of course, brewers. The focus of the congress was a series of presentations given by 16 industry figures who were invited to speak on a variety of topics from ingredients to methodology to branding to distribution. Speakers were divided into four sessions with ingredients and methodology before lunch, and business-orientated topics in the afternoon.

Tim Sheahan opening the Congress. Yes, that's the back of my head.

In the final session of the day Nick Dwyer, Creative Director at Beavertown, gave a presentation on Beavertown's branding and how his own artistic ability has developed alongside the brewery's image. He also gave us a masterclass in storytelling. As I told Nick afterwards, if I was grading his talk at work I'd have given him 100% because there was not a single thing wrong with it; it was a perfect demonstration of how to deliver a presentation to an audience:

-It was well planned with an definite structure
-There was good use of imagery (obviously!)
-There was a clear beginning and end 
-Timing was precise with effective pacing - slow enough for the audience to take in and think about what was said but fast enough that we all kept moving forwards
-There was good use of humour while discussing earlier pre-Beavertown work
-Throughout there was honesty and authenticity of voice

But the standout ingredient was the story of how Nick as an artist grew along with the brewery. I don't know if this might have an added significance for us because we can recall having brunch in Duke's one Sunday five years ago, chatting to Byron and being introduced to Nick, who was working there at the time. We still have some old Beavertown business cards with the original branding on so we've seen it evolve before our eyes from the outside. That made it all the more interesting to hear what it was like from the inside. And it just so happens that I like storytelling even more than I like beer, so I was wowed.

Nick Dwyer's photo of the early days of Beavertown

Communication is something I think about a lot - what makes a good teacher or good public speaker (or a good writer)? How can I improve my own performance? I attend lots of lectures and seminars in the course of my work, and as I watch and listen I am considering the performance of the speaker to see if there is anything I can learn from them.

Part of my role as a scientist is teaching, which is almost entirely about communication. I need to be able to explain scientific theory and practice at the appropriate level required for a particular student at that particular time, whether they're a medical doctor, a nurse, a soldier or another scientist. I've worked in the academic world for 17 years so I've had a lot of practice at what I do. But I say 'practice' for a reason - I'm always learning and I always want to improve.

I know of academics who are brilliant scientists but who are not great at teaching. There are various reasons for this but the main one is that they simply don't care whether they are good at it or not. I've also seen some amazing teachers and communicators in the course of my work. But it isn't as simple as just being naturally gifted at it, although certainly a few people are.

The most important thing is that you need to care about doing it in order to be good at it. I don't know a single person who doesn't care about communicating who just happens to be good at it in spite of that. It doesn't happen. When someone doesn't enjoy public speaking and they just want to get it over with, it shows.

At the congress we lucky enough to have a couple of charismatic speakers who definitely fall into the category of the naturally gifted. You know you've got one of these when they make you feel relaxed, even though they're the ones performing, because you know you're in safe hands. However if they were just 'naturally good at talking' but didn't care about their subject then they simply wouldn't be as good. Appearing in the first session of the programme was John Keeling, of Fullers, whom I think could probably talk to you about a shoe for 20 minutes and still hold your interest. On this occasion he was talking about definitions in beer and about philosophy in brewing - quite broad concepts; but when John examined them in depth they inspired reflection from the audience.

John Keeling gets philosophical

Later on Stu McKinlay of NZ brewery Yeastie Boys gave us an emotive presentation focusing on the importance of people in the success of his business and how important it is to take care of employees (as well as friends and family). This performance was impressive to me from a professional point of view because Stu did his whole presentation seemingly off the cuff, using only a handful of prompt slides (with phrases referencing musical influences). It felt to me and the other attendees with whom I talked about it afterwards that this had been an authentic and heartfelt presentation which resonated with us.

I know Stu to be a friendly guy who is both curious and approachable, but I didn't know him well enough to be aware that he must surely have been a motivational speaker in a previous existence (he claims this isn't the case). Listening to him speak at the congress put me in mind of some of the keynote speakers at graduation ceremonies I've attended. Some people are capable of drawing you in and making you feel invested in the story they're telling, inspiring you and even moving you emotionally. The impact they create can stay with you long afterwards.

During Stu McKinlay's presentation at the congress he referenced a panel at IndyManBeerCon back in 2015 which John Keeling was on. I was in the audience of that panel at IMBC too and I totally agree with Stu's assessment of Keeling on that evening - when he spoke people listened and what he said influenced the direction of the panel. That's a gift and it can be a real joy to witness it in action.

The final speaker I need to mention is Jaega Wise, Head Brewer at Wild Card, who delivered a well structured and professional presentation on women in the beer industry, with a focus on some recent examples of the tired sexist branding we are sadly all too familiar with. She remained calmly dispassionate whilst covering an emotive subject, which many of us have very strong feelings about, and she concluded her talk with a number of recommendations for how the industry can begin resolving the issues. This presentation has prompted a great deal of discussion in the media as well as responses from CAMRA and SIBA.

I have only mentioned a few of the speakers who presented at the Congress - because these people made a particular impression on me. Those who made an impact have clearly given some thought to the art of communication; they have considered their words and their message carefully. That's something that everyone should do if they would like people to pay attention to them (for the right reasons).

So what makes someone a good communicator? Well, if we're talking about public speaking there is an accepted baseline for performance - that all speakers should speak slowly and clearly and make good eye contact (we'll assume they have prepared a great presentation in terms of content). But if you would like to get beyond the baseline level you'll need to become a storyteller. Everyone loves a story. They've been part of our nature since we first had tools to record them. And I'm not just talking about books or films or even an oral tradition of mythology. I'm talking about when you're describing something funny that happened to you on the way to work or something ridiculous that you saw in the pub the night before. Those are also stories. They are your stories. We tell stories all the time, but we don't always realise that's what they are.

'The best place by the fire was kept for the storyteller'

If you think about the best speeches you've heard or the lectures that stay in your mind for years afterwards - it probably isn't the facts or figures that you recall from the distant past, it'll be a joke or a metaphor, or some kind of image the speaker got you to create in your own mind. It'll be something they told you about themselves; in other words, a story. 

If you want to become a better communicator* think about storytelling. Next time you're listening to a speech or next time your friend starts telling you a story, don't just listen to what they say, listen to how they say it too. I'll finish up with one of my favourite bits of advice for life in general, but it definitely works here too: when you see someone who is good at something, try to learn from them.

*and who doesn't?

Sunday, 5 November 2017

13 Reasons Why Working Behind the Bar is Entertaining

For 20-plus years I have remained firmly on the customer side of the bar at pubs, bars, clubs and festivals. In 2017 I decided that it was about time I experienced the other side of the bar. I volunteered at some beer festivals and also signed up for a four month stint of two shifts a week at the Hop Locker. These combined experiences have been fun, educational, tiring and frustrating, but on the whole rewarding.

After reflecting on my experience this year I have some things to say about both volunteering within the beer industry and working behind the bar but before I do that I wanted to share 13 of my favourite moments of customer interaction at The Hop Locker. For context I was mostly based at the summer pop up bar situated under the Hungerford Bridge, right on the Thames with a lovely view of Big Ben. In other words, it was a tourist location.

The view from within and without

 1. A 5% lager

Customer scans the taps on the lager side of the bar (10 taps on each side of the container with lager, cider, wine on one side and ales on the other side).

"Haven't you got a 5% lager?"
"Sorry, no. We only have a 4% lager on at the moment."
"That's a shame because I prefer a 5% lager."
"Oh, well if it's just a high ABV beer you want we do have a 10% imperial stout on?"

To this day I remain baffled at the idea that someone would select a beer using ABV as its defining feature.

2. An ale that's like a lager

"Can I have an ale that's like a lager?"
"Would you prefer an actual lager? Because we have one of those."
"No. I want an ale."
"Which one?"
"One that's like a lager."

I served this person an APA or session IPA, whilst the whole time thinking that all parties concerned were being done a disservice by this transaction.

3. Northerners can't drink halves

"Neck Oil please"
"Is that a pint of a half?"
*incredulous splutter*
"A half? Northerners can't drink halves!"
"That's not true. You can drink whatever you want."
"Nah. Can't drink halves!"

This was a recurring theme but one which could easily have been avoided by customers saying 'A PINT of Neck Oil please." Because if you don't state what measure of beer you want I cannot read your mind and I will have to ask you if you want a pint or a half. Because if I assume you want a pint and start pouring one, you might say, 'Oh, but I only wanted a half' and that could lead to wasted beer. So, you know, one to think about when ordering a drink - if multiple measures are available perhaps state the one you would like.

4. It's bizarre that Norwegians make ales

"I don't want anything that's 6 or 7%"
"Ok, so maybe Lucky Jack? That's only 4.7%."
"No. That's Norwegian and it's bizarre that they make ales."

Presented without comment.

5. Flavoured ciders

"Do you have any flavoured ciders?"
"No. We just have an apple cider."
"But is it apple flavoured?"
"It's apple, yes."
"Ummm... made of apples."
"But is it real apples or flavoured?"
"All cider is made from apples."
"But you know that Stella just made one that's flavoured?"
"You know? Some are just flavoured?"
"I'll have a pint anyway."

6. Rose and 7-Up

"What's your rose like? Is it sweet?"
"Not really. It's more dry. Did you want a taste of it?"
"Yes please"
*tastes wine*
"Yeah, so I'll have a glass of that with 7-Up please."
"It's ok if you blend them yourself if I give you another glass?"

Another similar exchange concerning wine:

"Do you do cocktails at all?"
"No, but there is another bar above this one which does."
"Nah, we're down here now. Do you do any spirits?"
"Yes, we do gin, vodka and rum."
"Great, can we get two JD and coke then please?"
"I'm afraid not because we only do gin, vodka and rum."
"Ok, what about cider?"
"Yes, we have a cider on tap. Would you like to try it?"
"Yes ok."
*sips cider, screws up face*
"Just give us two red wines and coke then."
"In the same glass?"
"Here's your red wine, your coke, and another glass for you to blend them at your leisure."

After this one I was informed by a beer friend that red wine mixed with coke is 'a thing' in Spain, similar to how beer and coke is a thing in Germany. See, I told you this gig was educational for me.

7. Stick something fruity in my DIPA please

"I want a beer. A fruity beer."
"Ok, maybe try this one and this one."
"Yes, that one will do. A half."
*pours a half of Beavertown Lupuloid*
"Ok, this is fine but can you just stick something fruity in it for me?"
"Like what? Did you want a wedge of lime in it?"
"Do you have any fruit juice?"
"Yes. Orange or cranberry?"
*adds shot of juice*
"Yes, that's better."

I enjoyed this one because the customer knew what they wanted and asked for it. Maybe I wouldn't choose it myself but they liked their drink and went away happy.

8. Candy Crush

On a quiet Saturday shift early on a guy wanted to try lots of different beers and chat about them - which is great. He started telling me about an app.

"So there's this app for beer..."
"Yeah, one of my friends uses it all the time. It's kind of like collecting beers."
"Oh yes, is it called Untappd?"
"I don't know. But it's a bit like Candy Crush for beers. He's on it all the time."

This reminds me of a similar exchange I had working at the original Hop Locker just after London Craft Beer Festival.

A party of three order a selection of different pale ales. Two of them go off to browse the bottle shelves, the one who's paying starts talking about a BBNo beer they had at LCBF. I say that I liked that one, but preferred another beer of theirs...

"My mate is really serious about his beer *indicates friend browsing bottles* like REALLY serious about it."
"Yeah, I like beer too."
"He's got this app where he records all of the beers he's tried."
"Oh, do you mean Untappd?"
"Yes. He's got like 300 beers on there!"
"What, is that like in a single week?"
"He's got 300 beers."
"Yeah, I kind of stalled at about 2000 and something."
*he speaks very slowly and clearly*
"No. I'm talking about beers he's actually tried himself."

9. Perfumy beers

"Do you have anything like Kronenbourg?"
"The closest thing we have is a pilsner from Lervig. Did you want to try it?"
"Nah. What other pale beers are there?"
"Well, there's a Kernel Pale Ale? It's not a lager, but it's pretty light and refreshing..."
"Oh yeah, I'll try that."
"Yeah, I'll give that a go. It smells the same as Kronenbourg anyway."
"Does it?"
"Yeah, because they're both perfumy."

10. Which one of these is the easiest to drink?

Presented without comment.

11. Scottish people only drink pints

See also number 3

12. Snake Bite

An American man asks to taste a 10% imperial coffee porter.

"Yeah, so I'll take a half of that and a half of apple cider."
*pours one half of the porter*
"No, I wanted them together."
"In the same glass."
"A coffee porter and an apple cider?"
*struggles to imagine what that could taste like*
"Yeah sure"
"Look, is it ok if I give you them separately and I'll give you another glass to mix them in?"

*some time later same man returns to bar*

"Hey, master blender, how was your drink?"
"Great. I've come back for another."
"So is this drink common where you come from?"
"Oh yeah, definitely. It's a Snake Bite."
"Oh, I thought a Snake Bite was cider and black, or sometimes cider, lager and black."
"No, cider and stout is a Snake Bite."
"Oh. I never heard that before."

We were so curious about this one behind the bar that we did a bit of research. We already knew that champagne and stout was a Black Velvet (less than the sum of its parts if you ask me). But apparently a 'poor man's Black Velvet' is cider and stout (again this sounds bloody awful to me but each to their own).

However, I maintain that an imperial coffee porter and apple cider is NOT a Snake Bite.

13. So many people don't know things these days

An American man and his daughter were hanging out at the bar drinking a few different beers on a Monday night.

"Can I try the imperial porter?"
"Hmm. So what is the difference between a barleywine and a porter anyhow?"
"Well, a barleywine is a strong pale ale. This particular porter is an 'imperial' meaning it has a higher ABV than is usual for the style. You would usually expect a porter to be lower in strength, maybe 4-6% kind of region. Also, porters are made with darker malts, so you get other flavours there like dark fruits or caramelised sugar flavours like toffee..."
"So would the yeasts also affect the flavour?"
"Not so much I don't think, because both styles have a relatively 'clean' fermentation character. Yeast is not a prominent feature in the flavour profile of these styles. For the porter maybe it would depend on house yeast strain, British and American porters would likely have differences from using different yeasts but nothing major I don't think."
"Oh. Ok, thank you. It makes a change for people to know things. So many people don't know things these days."

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

IMBC17: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The Independent Manchester Beer Convention (IMBC) is the highlight of UK beer festivals for me. In the same way that some people love Christmas - I count down the days until IMBC and the closer it gets the more excitable I become. Part of it is simply escaping London for a few days but part of it is that I have a soft spot for Manchester. In the early 1990s, when I was in my early teens, I used to visit my sister who was at university there and I have fond memories of trudging up and down Oxford Road in my DMs either heading out for the night or scuttling home in the early hours. In my mind Manchester has always been closely associated with good times involving beer and laughter.  

View from above, room two

In much the same way that a city can be so central to a story so as to effectively become one of the characters in a book, the venue for IMBC is one of the most important features of the festival for me. It is a pleasure and an honour to be able to spend time in such a beautiful location as Victoria Baths. To contrast it with a venue like Olympia (used for GBBF) which is effectively a giant box, is like comparing a lump of wood to a diamond. As well as three large rooms, the baths has outdoor space and a warren of smaller rooms, plus the upper levels which are fantastic for people watching. But my favourite feature has to be the rows of little changing cubicles in rooms 1 and 3 where you can take a secluded seat behind a curtain or door and enjoy some time out, away from the tidal flow of festival goers. If you spot someone you want to talk to you can just throw out an arm and catch them as they pass by. It makes me happy just to sit on my own with a beer and take in my surroundings. Call me easily pleased, but I'm not sure what other entertainment is really required from a beer festival. 

Who Needs a Beer List Anyway?

A couple of years back we all loved sitting there with our pastel-coloured beer lists and our IMBC pencils, circling the beers we wanted to drink. The lists were reasonably accurate but sometimes beers would run out, or never arrive in the first place, and beers might not appear at the specific session they were slated for. I can understand that it's impossible to know in advance which beers which will be finished in a single session so the 'fluidity' of the beer list was never a serious problem to me. 
This year there was no hard copy of the beer list available to punters, instead we had an app. We are all so used to checking our phones for information rather than a piece of paper that it seems reasonable to do away with the beer list, doesn't it? I confess I didn't even look at the app before I got there. In fact I only looked at it twice while I was there and one of those times was in an attempt to inspire myself to physically get up and go into another room. But it seemed like a functional app to me and I didn't hear any complaints about it while I was there.  
But I have a confession to make. The beer list isn't really my priority at IMBC. To provide some context - if I go out for a beer and a bar has one of my favourite beers on (e.g. Cannonball, Axe Edge, or a Kernel pale ale) I'll happily drink that same beer all night. I'm not fussed about ticking and I'm rubbish at checking beers into Untappd. There's a multitude of reasons for that (enough for a post in its own right) but the key point is: I'm not hunting for novelty or trying to get a high score. 

DIPAs and Sippers

What I did at IMBC for the most part was drink beers that I was already excited about: the aforementioned Kernel pale and IPA, Burning Sky Cuvee, Buxton's crazy ice cream beers. But I'll admit that I'm also keen on a well-made DIPA. I know what I like and I'm quite fussy about it. I'm not even talking about faults here (although I'll admit I did drink one poorly made DIPA while I was at IMBC which I was unable to finish), I'm talking about design and technique. There's more than one way to brew a great DIPA but not all of them will produce beers that I would choose to drink. 

For example, I love Other Half beers (that's why I volunteered to pour their beers at two UK beer festivals this year) and I know what to expect from them. But I think that at IMBC I had maybe three OH beers over the whole festival, even though they probably had four times that number available over the weekend. That's because I wasn't at IMBC to drink as many different beers as humanly possible, even if they are amazing beers which I would I know I'd enjoy. 

Social Work

So if the beer is not that important then what is? Well, I already explained how important the venue is to me. But the other key ingredient is the social element of IBMC. It seems like it is impossible to go more than a few yards without bumping into a friend or acquaintance, or spotting them from across the room or whilst looking down from above. It's also great to see friends of ours who started out as homebrewers now pouring their own beers at IMBC (e.g. Elusive, Torrside, Affinity). We are pleased and proud for them. 

There are always loads of people we want to catch up with at the festival. In too many cases this gets limited to a quick 'hey, how are you?' - because one or both parties are already in the process of going somewhere else to do something else at the time.  

But there's another reason we don't manage to chat to as many people for as long as we'd like to and that's because I have a problem with extended social interaction. If it goes on for too long without a break I find myself completely drained of energy. I feel physically and mentally worn out. 

I experience the same effect after teaching or tutoring, or doing voluntary work/public speaking, or working behind the bar. I enjoy all of these activities and I am good at them - otherwise I wouldn't do them - but I really do need to unwind and decompress afterwards. As an introvert I need to put a bit of effort into performing and the energy I expend in being 'switched on' requires me recharge my batteries when I'm done. Luckily, this is as simple as sitting on the sofa without having to interact with anyone for a couple of hours. 

View from the within the changing room, room one

In the first couple of sessions at IMBC I have a great deal of enthusiasm for interaction with people. But as time passes that energy wanes and I begin to feel too 'tired' to cope with any extended conversations. Hopefully, I haven't offended anyone I like and actually wanted to talk to with my fatigued demeanour. 

I am aware that sometimes a hangover can manifest itself as a kind of existential dread which brings with it an awful anxiety. I won't deny that I've been there a few times. But I have to say that I didn't have a single IMBC-related hangover this year, which is probably the one thing which made it clear to me that I have an issue with extended socialising that isn't directly caused by the effects of alcohol. 

I also want to be clear that I don't think I suffer from social anxiety disorder. I would describe myself as shy, antisocial and introverted. None of these things stops me from being a friendly social person when I have the energy or desire to be so. But the trouble is that I don't always have that energy available. 

This year's experience has been a bit of an eye-opener for me in terms of self-awareness. I need to learn my own limits. As much as I love, you IndyMan, it might be that attending all six sessions isn't the best thing for my mental health. It's not you, it's me. Honestly.