Monday, 12 August 2019

An alternative to GBBF Friday?

I’m still working on my article about last week’s Great British Beer Festival. For now, I can report that I enjoyed it, am glad I went and that I also came away with the feeling that CAMRA have listened to the feedback given over the past few years and taken action.

It’s too early for me to answer the question, will I go again but, as this short post demonstrates, I was not the only person asking this question. I’m also keen to learn CAMRA’s opinion of the event; both publicly and privately especially as the numbers attending seemed down on previous years. So as a prelude to my report, and before any post-mortem, here’s an alternative idea that some friends and I came up with last Friday.

I wasn’t the only person at GBBF on Friday, who was questioning their attendance at future festivals. There were several friends amongst the group I was with who were of the same opinion, all thinking that despite the great day out that the Great British Beer Festival offers, there are only so many new or exotic beers you can sample, without ending up totally legless.

In addition, when you factor in the cost of getting there, along with the not insignificant admission charge, a visit to GBBF can leave you seriously out of pocket, and that’s before you’ve even had your  first beer. An alternative day out, for next year’s event was therefore proposed, and it runs as follows.

As several of the people I was with on Friday use the event to meet up with friends or former work colleagues from other parts of the country, why not use the occasion to meet up somewhere on their home territory. So whilst it has become something of a tradition for this particular group to meet up at GBBF each year (normally on a Friday), why not instead travel somewhere outside of London and join them there?

Several people had travelled up from Hampshire or Dorset, so the idea was floated that instead of everyone spending money travelling to London, followed by extra cash for admittance to the festival, it would be good to travel to somewhere with a more central location; a city like Salisbury or Winchester for example. We could then visit several pubs in these localities and no doubt get to sample a number of different beers. 

A decent pub lunch could also be on the cards, rather than the constant “grazing” which seems to be the pattern at GBBF. This would be a much more relaxed day out, and would also afford the opportunity for a spot of sight-seeing, and other tourist activities as well.

It’s early days yet, but the idea certainly seemed to appeal to those present. The prospect of visiting a new location, or revisiting somewhere different, but not particularly familiar, is definitely one which appeals to me. There’s obviously mileage in it, if you’ll excuse the pun, so we might be witnessing the birth of a new early August tradition, albeit on a much smaller scale.


Dave said...

As an outside observer, I can't help but think your new plan would be much more fun than a beer festival. You can't beat a beer in a great pub. Toss in a pretty town and you can't lose. Looking forward to reading a post next August!

Ian Worden said...

The GBBF is sponsored by the "amazing" (*) Wetherspoons and quite frankly I'd sooner drink in one of their local (to me) pubs than at a Festival. I rarely have more than four pints on any day so a choice of hundreds becomes a bit pointless, plus getting older means that I (and my friends) like to be able to have a comfortable seat and table as well.

What I find slightly worrying is the comment about a decline in numbers attending since at the end of the day beer festivals can give a good return but can also be quite risky financially. The number of brewery bars is going up and perhaps the financial arrangements for these mitigate risk to CAMRA, but no doubt at a reduced return. The critical factor though remains numbers given that CAMRA must have a very good grasp of what the average visitor drinks, eats and spends on products and can budget accordingly, but also has very high fixed costs such as hall hire - which alone must be massive for a place like Olympia.

With record membership figures but perhaps fewer attending festivals, my impression is that CAMRA really does need to 'revitalise' thinking on new approaches to what it should be doing.

CAVEAT - I'm extrapolating from your post since neither I nor any of my friends have been for years and for all I know people who used to go on Friday might have now taken to Wednesday (say). But somehow I doubt that.

* per GBBF website

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Dave, yes a wander around an attractive town, taking in a few pubs on the way, is already starting to have much more appeal than wandering around a vast exhibition hall, trying numerous half pints which, after a while, all start to taste the same.

Retired Martin, Pub Curmudgeon and several others, already do this, in the form of their “Proper Days Out.” I’m tempted to attend one of these events, but the next one’s in Preston, and even with an Advance Rail Ticket I’d be looking at £70 +. I could get a return flight on Ryanair, to a European capital, for that amount, so I’ll be giving Preston a miss.

A destination in the midlands, or the south west would be alright, though.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Ian, I too am at the age where I prefer to sit down and do my drinking, as do many of my friends. CAMRA do their best to provide sufficient seating at GBBF, but the crowd I met up with were sat upstairs on the gallery.

This meant a route march back down to where the bars were situated. Not only was this tiring, but it also tended to break up any atmosphere which might be developing amongst the group.

At two of the three German beer festivals I have been to, you will only be served if you are sitting down, with a waitress bringing the beer to your table. This allows much more time to chat with friends, and for a proper group dynamic to build up. Even better, two of the events - Annafest and Frankische Bierfest take place outdoors. Munich’s world famous Oktoberfest, has outside seating areas, which are less boisterous than inside the massive “tents.” Waitress service again, for beer as well as food, and no admission charges either at any of these festivals.

The numbers in attendance at this year’s GBBF, definitely seemed less; certainly from what I recall on a Friday evening. Several years ago, people would be stood five or six deep at the bar and it would be a real struggle getting served. There was none of this last Friday, and there still seemed plenty of beer left, when we departed at around 9.15pm.

Having been involved with running a number of local CAMRA branch festivals, I know only too well that there’s a fine line between making a profit, breaking even and incurring a significant loss.

As I said in the main post, I’m still working on a more detailed article setting out my observations and thoughts about CAMRA’s flagship event.