Tuesday, 25 September 2012

On Beer Festivals

There is a great tale that after attending the 1982 Great British Beer Festival, beer guru Charlie Papazian said to beer writer Michael Jackson "Do you think we could do something like this in the States?". "We could, but what would we do for beer?" was Jackson's retort.

You might imagine that all beer festivals were much of a muchness, although the fact that you are reading this suggests that you are one of the self-selecting few who know that there are beer festivals, and then there are Beer Festivals. Like any festival, each event has it's own particular vibe, and to assume that all beer festivals are similar is to make a mistake akin to assuming that all music festivals are similar. They're just not.

I have a surprisingly limited experience of beer festivals, although I like to think the breadth of experience outweighs the frequency. From the archetypal regional CAMRA festivals (Salisbury Beerex, early 1990s), to the many-tentacled beast that the Great British Beer Festival has become, to the slightly off-the-wall Beer Exposed (September 2008), to the somehow urban-yet-pastoral vibe of the Copenhagen Beer Festival, the modern beer festival experience is as diverse as the modern music festival. You can draw your own analogies, but maybe start with the GBBF being the beer equivalent of Glastonbury, and work down from there.

Two festivals in quick succession are currently on my radar. This weekend sees the 4th Borefts beer festival, which has been described by various commentators as the sure-fire way to restore faith in craft beer (if it's in need of restoration), and the best beer festival in the world.I'm sure that the hyperbole of the latter is a recipe for disappointment, and we'll see how craft beer acquits itself on the day, but a quick peek at the beer list tells you that this is a beer festival with an agenda.

Also with an agenda was the recent Leeds International Beer Festival, although their idea was more about putting a beer festival into an urban (rather than suburban) setting - Leeds town hall, to be precise. The mix of beers was good, I thought, from cask stalwarts such as Taylor's and Ossett, to the vanguard of UK craft, to some rarer US imports. There has been some internet grousing over queues and pricing, but overall I thought the event was well thought-out and stands as an excellent foundation for another run at it next year.

Yet another agenda, albeit one questionably enhanced by my good self and a cast of other rapscallions, can be found on the first weekend in October. The 5th-6th sees the inaugural Independent Manchester Beer (& Stuff) Convention, or Indy Man Beer Con for short. Again, a glance at the beer list makes it clear that this is very much a beer festival of the moment. And that's no bad thing - there has been enough bleating about how the CAMRA/ the GBBF has "excluded" (that wouldn't be my choice of word) a certain sector of the brewing fraternity, and so it's good to see that rather than play victim, there has been a call to positive action. This is, I'm sure, a topic that will come up at what proves to be a lively discussion on Friday night about What The HELL Is Craft Beer? I look forward to finally reaching a definitive conclusion on that topic on the night.


  1. Totally agree with you, good to see positive action rather than self righteous bleating(great word) about how exclusive CAMRA supposedly are.

    1. I'm not trying to start an us and them thing here, and as I say excluded isn't my choice of word, but I admire anyone who believes in something enough to actually get off their arse and give it a go.

  2. Heh. I can think of more than a few people who would say that Borefts shows everything that's wrong with craft beer. Anyone who regards "it's nice, but I couldn't drink a pint of it" as a valid criticism, for one. It's a particular horse for a particular course and I'd hate if all beer festivals followed its model.

    See you Friday!

    1. I think that Borefts is an accurate microcosm of the craft beer scene, so if you like the scene, then you'll love Borefts, and if you're not on board, then you'll hate it. For me, it could go wither way - either I'll have my faith rekindled, or going on a killing spree.

    2. I see.
      /puts on John McCririck hat and sets up betting stall.

  3. We thought the Brewdog-sponsored GBBF companion festival/crawl was a great idea, but the negative marketing was a massive turn-off. IndyManBeerCon has definitely got a much more appealing (sorry) 'set of brand values' from where we're sitting.

  4. I looked at the Indy man festival when Tand mentioned it on his blog.

    They are looking for unpaid volunteers. It is being run by a commercial concern, the Port Street Beer House.

    I find it odd that people give their time to make money for CAMRA, but it is a Campaign and I guess if you support it then I sort of understand why people do it. Tis important to keep Mike Benner in post it notes.

    I thought of volunteering for a charity run one that I saw locally and can fully understand the community spirit, bit of fun and raising money for local causes. I didn't inn the end because I'm the sort that can't be arsed.

    Not sure I understand why people would volunteer to work for free for commercial concerns. Unless of course the dole office made them.

  5. Incredibly excited about both of these festivals, although two days at each on consecutive weekends could be ruinous.

    See you there

  6. "I look forward to finally reaching a definitive conclusion on that topic on the night"

    Ho, ho, ho!

    Glad you're finally making it to Borefts - I will be there for both days as usual. Beer Nut (who I think relishes being a bit of a contrarian on the quiet) is a little unfair. All the beers there will have something to say about themselves - whether you will want to engage them all in a long conversation is a different matter.

    God, now that sounds pretentious.

    1. Not sure whether to be more upset at being described as contrarian or quiet.

      I'm thinking of the likes of Marble Pint from last year's line-up. Having only had it in a 20cl glass I feel I didn't really get a proper run at it as the brewer intended. Clue's in the name, after all. The Borefts model suits the exotic and outré, but lower-strength pintable stuff suffers under the format, IMO, despite representing a major segment of craft beer. And I reckon all of us have been drinking with someone who'd take one look at a yard full of people drinking beer from tiny stemmed thistles and pronounce the modern state of beer to be beyond redemption.

      So I don't know whether to be excited or sceptical about this year's sub-3% challenge.

    2. I know what you're driving at, and to a certain extent I even agree (hence my slightly ambivalent attitude in this post), but that returns to my point about all festivals being different.

      One of my best ever music festival experiences involved listening to REALLY LOUD ambient music in a field with about 1000 other people. I actually lay down and fell asleep for a portion of the DJs set, and woke to him playing a recording of the shipping forecast over some mid-period Brian Eno.

      Had the piss-throwing screamagers from Download festival been there, they would have pointed and laughed, but there's room for lots of different experiences in music, as there is in beer.

  7. Entirely agree about the lower gravity beers so like you am perhaps a little sceptical about this year's "challenge". Mind you I think I would always encourage a British brewer to take along a lower gravity beer as it's something we can do so well. I know Marble got great feedback about Pint from the Euro-geeks who did not expect a beer like that to taste as good as it did. I'm sure the Buxton SPA will perform well this time around.

    And yes - plenty of my friends would look askance at the tiny stemmed glasses (although I have tried to explain that for some of the beers on offer that is more than enough, thank you very much). Years ago I ordered a lambic in the Kulminator in Antwerp and it came in a basket as is often the case. I've never been allowed to forget ordering "beer in a basket".

  8. Enjoyed the informative post Zak :-)

  9. The list at Indy Man looks great and I like the way they balanced keg and cask. It's a fair way to do and present to the people the merits of each. I like the focus on what seem English breweries yet with a good modern stylistic range. Mancunians and others attending are fortunate to have this.


    P.S. On Saturday, a not-to-be-missed for stout and porter fans is Kernel's export stout on cask. It is outstanding and preferable IMO to the same brewer's Imperial Brown Stout.


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