Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Festival Fatigue

As someone who is known for enjoying a pint, I often find work colleagues and acquaintances informing me of forthcoming beer festivals. This is especially true at this time of year where, with the Bank Holiday weekend fast approaching, the world and his wife appear to be running a  festival.

I always thank these people politely for their information but when, as is nearly always the case, I give a negative response to the question “I expect you will be going?” the look of disappointed astonishment on their faces never ceases to amaze me. These well-meaning people believe that because I am a beer lover I will automatically attended every local pub, club or village fete beer festival in existence! I try to tell them there are so many going on these days and, that even if I wanted to go to them all, I have neither the time or the finances to do so, but it’s almost as if they think it’s my duty to go along and try every beer on sale, especially where it’s a pub or organisation close to their hearts.

Well, I’m afraid it isn’t, and I think many local CAMRA members are starting to feel the same. I call this “festival fatigue” and whilst I know beer lovers should be welcoming this explosion of interest in decent ale, beer festivals are now becoming so common place there’s a danger they will start to lose their “novelty value” and people will lose interest in them anyway. 

As for me, I’m definitely “festivaled out” if there is such a word. So far this year I have attended beer festivals at Dover (Winter Ales), Angel Fest at Tonbridge Angels Football Ground, Orpington Liberal Club, Tonbridge Juddians twice, (their own festival in February and the massive SIBA South East event in July), Annafest in Forchheim, Germany and most recently the Great British Beer Festival at London Olympia. I’ve also been heavily involved in the preparation for the forthcoming festival our local West Kent CAMRA branch is holding in October, in conjunction with the Spa Valley Railway – a heritage rail line running between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge in Sussex. 

I felt this “festival fatigue” at GBBF last week, and whilst there remains a possibility I might go along to the festival at the Half Way House, Brenchley at some stage over the Bank Holiday, this will be more to be sociable and meet up with friends than a desire to “tick off” a few more beers!  As hinted in my recent post about GBBF, I find the socialising aspect of beer festivals to have a far greater appeal than trying yet another half dozen or so golden ales, all of which tend to taste pretty much the same after one has had a few. This was why Annafest was so good; it wasn’t about sampling as many different beers as possible, but instead just chilling out in the open air, soaking up the atmosphere, wandering around seeing what was going on and just generally having a good time. Sure, there were around a dozen breweries supplying beer, and over the three separate days that we visited Annafest, we managed to sample eight of them, but that wasn’t the main object of the festival.

So what, if anything, is the way forward? Well nothing really at the moment so far as CAMRA is concerned. GBBF now operates to a tried and trusted formula, and apart from a bit of tweaking here and there (more seating would be an improvement!), the campaign’s flagship festival can probably continue along similar lines as present. One worst of caution though, the average age of the volunteers who give up their spare time to run CAMRA festivals is not getting any younger, and  unless more younger members step up to the plate, there will come a time when there just won’t be the manpower available to run events like GBBF.
Pub beer festivals too should be encouraged, and there’s probably not a lot that needs changing here. Not only do these events bring extra trade to the pub, but hopefully they might encourage some of the pub’s regulars to try something different from Fosters or Carling and introduce them to the delights of proper beer!  Again, a note of caution, I would like to see a bit more communication between pubs in order to avoid beer festivals clashing. For example, there are at least four such events that I know of taking place locally over the coming Bank Holiday weekend. I appreciate this is a popular time to pick, but with so many going on there’s a danger attendances will be diluted across the board, and the individual impact each one might have had will be lessened. 

As for me, I’ve already made my views on the subject clear, and I’m sure I’m not alone suffering from “festival fatigue” . Perhaps the way forward is that adopted by the recent London Craft Beer Festival – staged last weekend.  The format was slightly different to a CAMRA festival, and of course not all the beers would have been CAMRA approved so far as storage and dispense is concerned. That doesn’t matter to me, as what these beers actually taste like is far more important than side issues such as dispense. The event took place from 16th to 18th August at Oval Space in London’s Bethnal Green. According to the website, there were around 20 breweries taking part, not all of them from London, and even including legendary overseas brewers such as Mikkeller and To Øl, both from Copenhagen and Brouweij De Molen from the Netherlands. Home-grown talent included Dark Star, Kernel, Camden Town, Magic Rock and Redemption, and I’m sure that amongst this line up there would have been some real stunners.
According to the organisers, the £35.00 ticket price included:
  • ENTRY TO THE EVENT - all the breweries, the food market and the terraces for the session
  • LOTS OF GREAT BEER – a beer from every stand (You’ll get a token for a third of a pint (189ml) from every brewer stand – that’s over 5 pints of great beer!)
  • LOVE / KNOWLEDGE / EXPERIENCE - Access to the brewers, brewery teams, beers from around the world, different types of beer
  • FREE GLASS - A London Craft Beer Festival branded glass
  • AWESOME FESTIVAL PROGRAMME - with tasting notes and information on each brewery
  • HOURS OF FUN5 hours of enjoying great beer, great music and our lovely terraces
  • *Food is not included in ticket price, be sure to bring a bit of cash for our amazing food market (cards also accepted
  • *If you power through the five pints more beer will be available to buy
  • THE BOTTLE BANK – There will be a selection of the Breweries best bottled beers to purchase from Oval Space to take away. 
I am kicking myself a bit for not having noticed this event. If I’d known further in advance then I would definitely have gone and may even have given GBBF a miss!  I haven’t seen anything on the blogosphere about the London Craft Beer Festival, so if anyone did manage to get along I would like to hear what were their impressions  of the event.


Curmudgeon said...

Hmm, not sure I'm that keen on the ticket including five pints of beer. Not everyone will want to drink that much, particularly as a lot of the beers on sale will be pretty strong.

The average per capita consumption at CAMRA festivals is only about 3.25 pints.

Anonymous said...

Paul, there was a blog post on LCBF here:

Cooking Lager said...

Why would a younger lad have any interest in stepping up to the plate?

Back in the day the point of these festivals was encouraging people to enjoy real ale, not the common product it is now, for the selfish reason that the more that did, the more likely you'd find a decent grog to drink when you went out for a pint yourself.

These days it is putting on an event for beer enthusiasts to make money to send to Mike Benner to fight a middle class war against Tesco. Why would anyone give up their time to do that?

Keep your plate.

Matt said...

Five pints for £35! Even knocking off a few quid for entry, it looks like a complete rip-off of to me.

Mark said...

I've been suggesting that we may have reached saturation point re. Beer Festivals for some time now, it's even getting that way with the newer kid on the block, cider festivals. The model I particularly like as a pub enthusiast is the one I didn't manage to get to (due to Notts Station being dug up) in Newark recently. The CAMRA organised IPA trail featured numerous IPA's from assorted breweries, dotted around numerous pubs in the town and nearby villages. So a kind of linear themed beer festival which involves visiting pubs rather than standing around in town halls and industrial units. Drinking in the company of a diverse range of humans rather than a single-interest group. Supporting pubs 'as well as' breweries if campaigning is important to you. Excellent!

Paul Bailey said...

Curmudgeon – I’ve seen those per capita consumption figures before and, without wishing to sound sexist, I think they’re skewed by the increasing numbers of women (who are normally a little more moderate in their consumption than us men) attending festivals these days. Personally I don’t think five pints is excessive. There was a time when I would regularly tuck that much away on a Friday or Saturday night, and over the course of the Five Hour Sessions which the London Craft Beer Festival was split up into, I’m sure most drinkers wouldn’t have much difficulty in downing five pints.

Anonymous – Thanks for the link, the festival sounds really good, apart from one aspect which I thought might be a problem – loud music! Music at a festival is fine, if kept in the background, but if you have to shout to make yourself heard, well that’s a definite no-no!

Cookie – Someone has to keep CAMRA’s chief executive in the lifestyle he is accustomed to!

Matt - £35 might seem excessive at first glance, but considering the package as a whole it is no more expensive than a day at GBBF, which breaks down as follows: Admission (non-members) £10 (in advance); Programme £2; Festival Glass £3 (ok, I know they are refundable, but most people (not me!), choose to keep theirs). That’s £15, before anyone’s had a drink. Top that with five pints of beer, at an average price of say £3.40 a pint and you’re not far off what the London Craft Beer Festival was charging.

Mark – A peripatetic (if that’s the right word), beer festival sounds a great idea, especially as it is supporting local pubs. I would definitely be in favour of moving from pub to pub, trying different beers and meeting a wide mix of people. Beats standing in a characterless town hall with a load of beer bores any day!

Bryan the BeerViking said...

I didn't get to LCBF, but I do know that the £35 all-inclusive thing is a fairly common format for festivals outside the UK - it's more or less how the recent Copenhagen Beer Celebration, and even the mighty Great American Beer Festival work.

The big - and not entirely welcome to me - difference is that LCBF *wasn't* all-inclusive, as you only got 15 thirds. Other festivals of this kind don't have a limit, but of course their measures are smaller - as little as 1oz at GABF.

Curmudgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curmudgeon said...

Any kind of all-inclusive deal would probably fall foul of licensing authorities in the UK.

Paul Bailey said...

Bryan - I really don't see the point of 1oz "pours" as the Americans call them. There was a character in a Dickens novel who stated that "Beer can't be tasted in a sip!", and he's right. Such neasures wouldn't even touch the sides!

Curmudgeon said...

The whole point of beer is that it is a long drink. Anything less than a half (or maybe a third for strong beers) negates that. It's like test-driving a Ferrari down your drive.