Are beer festivals changing?

Posted by on Aug 6, 2012 in Beer Festivals | 6 Comments

Is there another way?

This week, the nation’s largest beer-related jamboree will take place in London. The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) is CAMRA’s annual boozy behemoth, with eight hundred real ales and imported foreign beers on offer. For 2012, the festival reverts to London Olympia – ironically due to the Olympics having sequestered Earl’s Court for volleyballing. I last went down to the GBBF in 2009, and thoroughly enjoyed it – coming from Scotland there were literally hundreds of beers I’d never heard of.

But, recently, I’ve been wondering if there isn’t another way of doing this. These large ‘church-hall’ festivals work well in that they get the punters in a large space, with plenty of beer on offer (and certainly, if you have 800 lines then a large space is exactly what you need). CAMRA’s long-standing aims – ones we can all agree on – include getting people into British pubs, educating people about beer, and supporting the brewing industry. Well, there are a few, smaller, festivals appearing now that do all of that at once.

Last month we covered the inaugural Edinburgh Independents’ Beer Festival – where a multitude of cask and keg beer was served across eight of the city’s pubs simultaneously. This morning I got a PR email from the Independent Manchester Beer Convention, which will be hosting 30 keg and 30 cask beers in the Victoria Baths over the first weekend of October, with representatives of each brewery there in person.

What makes these two festivals special is that they involve the public to a greater degree – aside from reading the programme and picking a beer (as you do at GBBF and SRAF), at EIBF you moved around different pubs, supporting them as well as the festival organisers – and at IMBC the brewers will apparently be hosting the event, pouring beers and answering questions (in a similar way to US festivals, and those such as Borefts at De Molen).

Clearly, this is all down to scale – brewers do attend GBBF, but with the hundreds of beers on offer it would be impractical to have meet n’ greets, or get the punters moving around a series of pubs. However, I find these smaller festivals far more interesting, as you get something extra alongside a large list of beers to try. Is this the way things are going? As GBBF continues in the same vein, will other, newer, festivals arrive to offer an alternative?


  1. Phil
    August 6, 2012

    Although I’m sure GBBF will be fabulous I think you are right, things are changing and for the better. The IndyMan fest looks great and promises to be a really interactive affair. No better pint than one you are drinking with the brewer around to give a little insight, plus it gives you that personal connection the next time you buy/drink another if their beers


  2. Dave from DemonBrew
    August 6, 2012

    I was pouring pints behind the bar at the Scottish Camra fest.
    Tried to stay around my beer as much as possible and punters seemed to really enjoy the fact that they could speak to the brewer of the beer they were interested in.
    It was also great as a brewer to get feedback and judge opinion first hand from drinkers.
    Enjoyable all round but I agree that large hall fests are not the only way to do it and pub fests are a brilliant idea.

  3. Richard
    August 6, 2012

    Phil – GBBF is great purely because there’s so much on offer, and if it wasn’t in London during the Olympics I’d try and get there again. Some of the brewers are there, of course, but like you I’m looking forward to IMBC as well! More for everyone

    Dave – I seem to remember you drinking plenty of pints as well 😉 Feedback is definitely the biggest advantage to brewers attending festivals where their beer is served, absolutely. We need to head down the coast and pay you a visit! Been saying that for too long…

  4. Dave from DemonBrew
    August 6, 2012

    Yes Rich, I did have a few eh…samples 🙂
    Would love a visit!

  5. keith russell
    August 6, 2012

    hey rich
    i agree, the large halls are great to see a wide spectrum of beers but with so many micro breweries etc especially in Scotland the opportunity to hold smaller beer fests have increased. We are currently running one at the pub I manage for the edinburgh festival which is mainly about celebrating, tutoring and helping local brewers to inform the public of their products. it has been great fun so far and has helped encourage the younger generation of beer (& cider) enthusiasts to hear, learn and most importantly taste what local brewers have to offer.

  6. Glenn Halstead
    August 6, 2012

    I’d really like a beer festival format where the brewers present their own beers with the opportunity to talk about them. The Edinburgh Whisky Fringe festival works like this for whisky, it is enjoyable and interesting being able to discuss the products with their creators while tasting them.

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