Photography By Jody Hartley

 
Ever since my first bag of dry roasted KP nuts I’ve loved bar snacks; I wasn’t drinking then though, I was just a fat child. Life got infinitely fancier when I was introduced to the Wigan Buffet: a splayed bag of crisps with nuts poured on top. Playing with the combinations brings minutes of fun to any pub session, especially in this time of strange, crunchy, over-processed foods. It has, however, long bothered me that bar snacks are generally awful. With the use of artificial flavourings and more salt than the Dead Sea, pub snacks generally overwhelm rather than compliment a beer. Of course, everything goes with cold lager or helps remove the taste of farty ale but beer has moved on and so should the snacks that stop us falling off our barstools.

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Beer festivals are by their very nature a wonderful thing but Indy Man Beer Con is something special. It was there that we wanted to try creating (and curating) a selection of bar snacks to compliment some fine drink. We’ve been to the festival for its first two years and loved it, but the one thing missing was the snacks: the nuts, seeds, jerky and beersticks we always want when we’re having a drink. We set out to smooth the one rough edge of our favourite beer festival, if only for ourselves – this year we wanted to leave each day with forward stagger rather than a sideways one. We also needed a way to go for free because we were broke.

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We brought together a menu that went something like this:

Hot Pepper Roots (Pickles) – Vadasz Deli

Jerky & Smoked Beer Sticks – Cobble Lane Cured

Spicy Beer Sticks – Moons Green Charcuterie

Hickory Smoked Cashews & Almonds – The Real Smoked Nut Co.

Texan Beef Jerky – Billy Frank’s

 
We also made our own things:

Cluster Fucks

Holy Fuck Roasted Nuts & Barley Malt Syrup Glazed Pumpkin Seed Clusters.

Caribbean Clusters

Hot Pepper Cashews & Coconut and Jerk Spice Pumpkin Seed Clusters

 
Most of these things were from London so we bundled them into a transit and set out. Our stock was precious as I had no idea where to get speciality meats in Manchester that could replace those from Cobble Lane or Moons Green. I had no real experience of the food landscape of Manchester when I lived there other than a good knowledge of nice places to take indie chicks I’d found in awful clubs. To be safe, we stocked some crisps and that but kept it to a minimum. I went with my favourites: Mini Cheddars (all flavours) and Kettle vegetable crisps. I’m happy to say that Manchester ate everything else we had before moving on to this kind of thing. Also worth having about if some cunt brazenly starts stealing your olives.

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There’s an obvious glaring omission from the menu, that of pork scratchings. By the time the whole thing was over, all I could really think was ‘fuck pork scratchings’ – they take ages to make, they’re fiddly and they’re gross (gross to make, not gross to eat). We managed to put out about 20 portions of roasted skin over the full 4 days due to various fuck-ups of time and concentration. It’d have been much, much less if wasn’t for Penelope who is used to working tirelessly on tedious tasks as she’s a florist (and my wife). My handy hint in this department is this: learn how to store pig skin. Its goes off quicker than the flesh and needs to be covered only loosely. I’d also recommend getting a Stanley knife for all of the cutting and trimming.

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Time between trading was mainly spent in the kitchen or in Unicorn Grocery, an incredible food co-operative in Chorlton. There I could get hold of great quality nuts and seeds and even the syrups and seasonings to roast them with. I’ve never been to a shop quite like it, certainly not in London. London hates people, poor people especially. We toasted and roasted and caramelised countless kilos of pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds and sunflower seeds over the weekend and the beer hounds of Manchester ate them all gladly.

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After the Friday trade session we arrived to an almost empty venue. As I talked to some nice people making coffee I felt something very close behind me. I turned to see a tall, thin man pulling at the skin below his eyes with the thumb and little finger of one hand. He looked like James Franco with a goatee. He muttered a ‘yep’ and wandered off. I eyed him as he left. He was almost unquestionably high as shit. As the guy wandered off and I watched his long grey overcoat from behind I could only think that I was truly amongst my people. I’d meet the same man later, we’d get on and head out the back for a blast of delicious hash. It turned out he was a bar owner from Barcelona and so, as he has a business, let’s call our man Franco. Actually, let’s not. We’ll call him Pedro, for reasons of racial stereotyping. As ever I’ll happily confess everything because I have no intention of owning a business.

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Along with Pedro’s brother, we huddled in the corner of the carpark and smoked a lovely joint rolled with a fat Moroccan filter. Pedro was a natural story-teller. It was Saturday night and we’d been drinking for days so the stories turned to those times spent stumbling around clubs and chasing girls. We both shared stories of being thrown out of clubs by misguided bouncers just as we were getting on well with a new female aquaintance. My story ended with the obvious ‘and then I never saw her again,’ which I thought was going to be the same for Pedro. He nodded solemnly at my tale and I asked how his night ended.

‘Oh, yeah…I fucked her!’ What a guy. All of his stories had a happy ending. Our conversation remained bawdy and the blur of hash and various drink was warm and syrupy. As we re-entered the baths, Pedro struck up a song along the lines of ‘biiig niiiples…they are pointing at you!’ This was quite a wonderful moment and one I’ll forever cherish.

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When it got to Sunday afternoon, we were much more somber. Our afternoon joint led us to conversations of using weed as a form of meditation. The all-encompassing stillness is something I also treasure; making time to move thoughts around slowly rather than considering everything all at once. The world is a noisy, hateful place and it’s these moments of human connection and mutual celebration that make it worth trudging around. As Pedro’s eyes narrowed due to the power of THC and afternoon sun, he looked at the joint and gave the analogy of the weekend.

‘Most hash is like Imperial Stout, this is like a nice pale ale.’ This was a man who spoke my language. The weed round my way is like London Fields beer – absolutely shit. Hopefully I’ll be alive when prohibition is lifted and we can have food, beer and cannabis all under one roof. Pairing hash and black IPA and meditating deeply on the nature of saisons.

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By the Sunday evening were almost entirely sold out of everything and happily drinking our way through another hangover. We’d fed people the snacks that they hopefully enjoyed and had perhaps our most enjoyable festival to date. It was important to me that we were in my hometown and bringing interesting things to people at an affordable price. It was also very important that we drank some of the best beer in the world from our favourite breweries. Here’s a very short, arbitrary list of beers we remember drinking and subjectively liking:
 

Peanut Butter Brown – Thornbridge – 6.2%

Black Pearle Milk Stout – Weird Beard – 3.7%

Mauna Kea Hawaiian IPA – Summer Wine – 6.2%

Boozy Scotch Ale – Mad Hatter – 10%

Citra Ass Down – Against The Grain – 6.7%

Delta Red Disorder – Toccalmatto – 8.6%

Imperial Doughnut Break – Evil Twin – 11.5%

Dirty Stop Out Bourbon BA – Tiny Rebel – 5%
 
There were many more but who gives a fuck? If you weren’t there you won’t care and if you were you’ll have tasted so many nice things my opinions are some shit-wind to you. When we got home we reflected on the whole thing and were pleased to have met great people and pulled off something that wasn’t a business decision but just an idea to do something fun for everyone involved. I had but one regret:

‘We should’ve done Wigan Buffets for two quid.’

‘Maybe next year.’

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