Despite Britain’s juggernaut craft revolution, in which breweries from Brewdog to Wild Beer continue to churn out innovative beers and open hip bars, the mention of a beer festival still narrows a few eyes. The image of middle-aged, overweight, bearded losers in corduroy trousers and braces is just a little too deeply ingrained on the mind’s eye.

A visit to the Independent Manchester Beer Convention – IndyManBeerCon for short (IMBC for super-short) – is perhaps your best bet of erasing those ideas and getting a fresh perspective on just what a beer festival can be in 2016. Held annually in the beautiful Victoria Baths, located in the hinterland between Oxford Road and Stockport Road, IMBC, along with Manchester Beer Week, is helping the city establish itself as one of the most exciting places in the country to enjoy a pint.

This year’s festival sees Manchester darlings Cloudwater debut version eight of their much-celebrated super-hoppy double IPA range. Other locals, including microbrewers Black Jack, Marble and Stockport’s Quantum, are joined by a host of brewing talents from across the UK – Thornbridge, FourPure and Weird Beard, to name a few. Even more impressively, IMBC has the clout to command an international presence, with innovators hailing from Denmark, Germany and even the US on this year’s line-up.

Hosted in the various rooms of the expansive Edwardian bathhouse, the festival is a true celebration of all things craft beer. Working on a simple, no-frills ‘one token = one beer’ basis means customers are free to be as restrained or outlandish as they wish with their choices. From traditional styles, like IPAs, stouts and lagers, to obscurer creations, such as goses and saisons, there’s something for every palate. Even within an individual style like pale ale, there are fruity, bitter, sour and even salty variations. It’s next to impossible to come away from IndyMan without having tried something that’ll make you reassess what you thought a beer could be. But for the truly stubborn, there are a few cider bars.

As with any good festival, food plays a big part here too. Manchester burger giants Almost Famous sit alongside the Great North Pie Company and a stone-baked pizza joint, while smaller indoor stalls offer oysters and Karkli, pitched as the ultimate beer snack. Somerset heavyweights Wild Beer Co, who have been given responsibility for the outdoor beer tent this year, take their mission to impress very seriously, bringing a huge truckle of Westcombe Dairy cheese to each session of the four-day event, and insisting punters take a handful to complement their star-of-the-show Modus Operandi, a 7% rich, barrel-aged old ale that will speak to red wine fans.

Pop-ups and events are just another trick up IMBC’s sleeves. While so many beer talks descend into boring old farts throwing complex Latin yeast strain names at each other, things are definitely shaken up here. From a hands-on session which teaches how to professionally review a beer and start one’s own beer blog to sessions that debut new and exciting beers, there’s something for everyone across the festival.

IndyMan is such a spectacle that it even has its own festival fringe. This year sees Beavertown, Buxton and Hawkshead all hosting additional events for warm-ups and cool-downs across various venues, including Common and Port Street Beer House, who have more than a single finger in the IMBC proceedings.

As yet another brilliant year of IndyMan winds down on Sunday with Wild Beer’s entire range running out in an almost perfectly timed climax, just as the final last orders bell tolls, it’s hard to imagine how next year’s event won’t be bigger and better still, but also how the hell they’re going to make it so. As the slightly merry crowd wind their way out of the tiled mazes of Victoria Baths, the brewers start to pack up, swapping bottles of their best brews with friends old and new. Now where were those fringe events?

Jordan Lee Smith