Monday, January 03, 2011

Have Beer Festivals Had Their Day ?

This post is a direct response to a comment made a couple of days ago by 'Jibber' and one I feel worthy of a bit more exploration.

He rightly says that nowadays there are beer festivals virtually every weekend, some are accessible, some less so; some large events, some are smaller club or pub type festivals; some are good, some less so. But have they outgrown their usefulness ?

On a personal note, with some of the larger Camra festivals I tend to agree with him. Even though I am selective in the ones that I attend, I often see the programmes for others and it is not unusual to see the same beers appearing time after time. Is that what the drinkers really want ? I suppose it depends on your reasons for going. If you are happy to drink whatever beer is provided, then this not a problem, but if, like me, you want to sample new breweries or new beers, it can be disappointing. They are a still a way of catching up with like minded people and old friends, so, irrespective of the beer on offer, they can be classed as a 'social event'.

Some of the smaller festivals are possibly a better bet, particularly those pub based ones that strive to source the more unusual beers, but even then you cannot be sure things will not be duplicated. It seems unlikely that a pub festival in Liverpool,will have the same contacts as one in Newcastle, and therefore, there is more of a chance to find something different, whereas, the larger festivals may be using the same agencies to supply their needs, and hence the same beers may appear at more than one. I do know many publicans, and organisers of festivals who constantly strive to be different and long may this continue. I, for one, appreciate the effort and will try to support them.

Alongside this is the comment he makes, that by a little forward planning, it is not difficult to plan yourself your own festival by visiting several pubs in an area on a certain day. I am a firm believer in this, as are may other enthusiasts, and that is why places like Manchester, Sheffield and Derby, as well as Huddersfield, figure so highly for beer 'tickers'. Provided the research is good enough, then you can find enough new beer in a day, and in vastly different environments, to negate the reasons for visiting a festival anyway. Lets face it, the human body can only drink so much after all, so whether the choice of beers is 40 or 400 it is impossible to drink them all at one go.

May be some of the larger festivals have outlived their usefulness, some of the smaller ones are still vital, both for the drinker, but also as a way for the publican to bring in some extra revenue, albeit with a lot of extra work. There is a place for them I am sure. But I will still enjoy my days out somewhere new, sampling what is on offer that I rarely see at home. Its just a way to get the best of both worlds.


Leigh said...

Now then - interesting post. Personally, I'm like you - I don't attend every one, and there are admittedly a lot. However, I feel they are far from dead. Firstly, I've seen a number of pubs (especially in the last few years) holding beer festivals for charity, repair work to churches, or simply to bring the community out and get them drinking. that has to be a good thing, surely? the larger ones still serve as an excellent breeding ground for interested observers to really 'get into' beer. again, is this not why we blog - to drive people away from mass-produced beers and onto the good stuff? I do, however, agree that maybea little more imgination is needed - themed (irish, scottish, US, music, walking) festivals could do with happening more often to keep the more informed amongst us entertained! But no, I don't think Beer Fests have had thier day. If you attended one every weekend, I could understand why you'd be bored. My response would be simply to get to the pub more and not leave it til a festival rolls along!

Simon Johnson said...

I'd say the profusion of beer festivals points to the drinking public's desire for them.

The majority of festival drinkers aren't tickers and are more than happy to have a range of their favourite beers plus the odd new one all on offer at the same location.

After all, what's better than the pub you love? The same pub with more beer on offer...

ChrisM said...

I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand I really enjoy beer festivals generally - the atmosphere and camaraderie, the amount of beer available. But then again, sometimes even with 40+ beers available there's still nothing that jumps out at me that I particularly want to drink. And I say that after experiencing both ends of the spectrum, i.e. including a bar full of beers I've never heard of. Variety is key in my opinion rather than catering to just the tickers or just to people who want to drink the same boring brown beer all night.

As for your comments on the beery cities - what they all need is for someone (or a group of people) to start a blog such as Phil's in Newcastle. Very useful tool for those inclined to seek out particular beers.

Steveg said...

Tim, much of your analysis of the Beer Festival scene is accurate and probably widely accepted by most enlightened imbibers. It is also clear that, almost without exception, the principal motivation for holding a Beer Festival these days is for pecuniary gain (not that seeking to make a profit should ever be considered unworthy), however, this was not always the case.
Historically the early Beer Festivals were almost exclusively held/run/organised by local CAMRA groups with the principal aim to further the promotion and availability of "Real Ale", mainly by showcasing many of the Breweries & Beers from further afield that many people did not have access to and were possibly unaware of. By providing easy access and exposure to the best of the "Real Stuff", it was hoped to convert the ignorant Lager & Keg drinkers to the joys of Real Ale, with varying degrees of success. If the festival broke even, or made a small profit, then all well and good - but success was not solely measured by the balance sheet!
It seems a shame that these more altruistic ideals are seemingly lost to most of the larger, modern CAMRA fest's with the emphasis firmly on the cash not the choice. As for the smaller, predominantly pub festivals, mostly bourne on the back of the pioneering CAMRA events, they seem to be the ones promoting the newer breweries these days. Long may they continue!
And then there are "Entry by Ticket Only" events....but don't get me going about that old chestnut! One for another time I suspect.

Beeralist said...

In some places it's not even necessary to visit more than one pub to get an evening's selection of good beer. I'm thinking of pubs like the Bridge at Topsham, Sovereigns at Woking and the Black Boy at Winchester, but there are many others. Pubs like this have real character as well as a great selection and so are attractive places to go.

I hardly ever attend beer festivals these days as I seem to be enjoying them less and less. I'm just not excited by standing about drinking in a sports hall.

The only one I'll always try to get to is Farnham (Surrey) as it's in a great venue.

So, maybe beer festivals are less important now if you are lucky enough to live in an area where pubs have good choice. We don't want to discourage people from going to pubs at this time do we?