What Makes or Breaks a Beer Festival? It’s Not Neccesarily the Beer…

When organising, hosting or curating a beer festival there are dozens of things that you need to take into account in order for it to be considered a success. The list is huge. From the logistics of getting all the drinks in, to how ticketing is going to work, to the level of wackiness you’re comfortable subjecting the volunteers to thanks to their dayglo orange staff t-shirt adorned with roller-skating hippo festival logo. But there is another thing to consider that can turn out to be the most crucial thing of all – and it something that on occasion is entirely out of the hands of the people doing the organising. I’m talking about temperature.

By this I mean the actual, ambient temperature – not the implied sliding scale of degrees we are all familiar with these days; that which runs from tooth-loosening frosty keg serves to white hot Instagram-sensation craft breweries. Nor am I referring to the more traditional, conservative festival scale involving volcanic pie crust moving to strangely tepid pie interior. Having a beer festival temperature that ensures everyone enjoys themselves is vital, whether they be note-taking patron, staff-member sneaking another ‘quality control’ sample backstage or yeast cell floating in SmashPow Brewing Co’s continually fermenting Vermont Tank IPA (beer name: Truble in Paradise).

Firstly, the most important thing of all is that the beer needs to be cool. Keeping the cellar area – usually not so much a cellar as a rickety gantry you’d not expect to bear the weight of a disply of pork scratchings, let alone forty casks – at the required below room-temp condition is a masterpiece of organisation (and power generation). We have all had the misfortune of attending beer festivals where everything served is too warm and listless, limply sitting in your branded half pint glass like the last puddle in the park on a hot day. Cooling pythons, chiller jackets, refrigeration – anything to maintain a beer’s flavour as it waits patiently in its plastic cask – this is paramount.

The other half of the hot/cold coin is the temperature for those who are paying the money and trying to attach sticky paper wristbands to themselves and not their clothes. If the beer is warm, then chances are the people will be too, and when standing in a church hall or re-purposed turn of the century mink abattoir the afternoon isn’t going to be fun if things are warm and sticky. I guess in theory the opposite end of the scale would also be true, but I’ve never been to a beer festival that is too cold (unless you count al fresco camping-based ones like FyneFest, which is kind of out of their hands).

Amnyway, that brings me to the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival, held last weekend at Leith’s Biscuit Factory. The good people at LUX kindly chipped a ticket for my wife and myself so we headed along and I could have talked about the great beer (Cloudwater’s Mango Sour pictured at the top of the post, Wiper and True Bourbon Cream Imperial Milk Stout and Thornbridge’s corking Passion Fruit & Blueberry Sour), or how the building really suited the attendees and beers on offer – look at the brickwork and squint and you could have been in Williamsburg. But it was the temperature that sparked this blog post.

On a hot day – standard for Leith – the interior was cool thanks to our early arrival and some turbo-charged fans placed at each corner of the room, and the outside with bierhall tables warm enough to sit outside into the evening. With the beers all perfectly cool, every potential temperature-related pitfall was handled perfectly. When you don’t notice the things that tend to niggle at other festivals, it means you can get on with the job in hand, which at the ECBF was namely trying every beer that would have made my Dad splutter into his Moorhouses’ Bitter (all of them, in other words).

2 thoughts on “What Makes or Breaks a Beer Festival? It’s Not Neccesarily the Beer…”

  1. Was at ECBF and I thought the venue was the thing that let it down. Beer and food wise it was an ace festival but ,for me, the venue was unsuitable. Yes it looked like the archetypal hipster hang out but the lack of seating was very annoying as was having to queue to get upstairs for a drink and that area was uncomfortably hot as I heard from people around me who had been there longer than myself. I have given some feedback to the organisers who kindly replied saying they were taking on board suggestions for next year.
    I do use Borefts fest at De Molen as the benchmark for Craft beer festivals as I think it is pretty much perfect so can be quite critical when I feel others fall short of the mark but I hope it returns next year, just somewhere else. Going to the Beavertown Extravaganza in September and it looks as if it is in a similar type of venue to ECBF so will reserve judgement.

  2. I really enjoyed ECBF.
    We noticed early on that they were patrolling the stairs to manage capacity, so we started at the top, went around all the breweries to chat and try there beers, before going downstairs to do the same – that way we didn’t need to queue at all, and managed to try more amazing beers that I assumed would be there.

    Even when Parabola went on tap at 4pm, the queue to upstairs had dissipated by that point, allowing us to make it up it time for one of the first pours!

    Great concept, one price, access to every beer.
    Would definitely go again, and again, regardless of the venue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*