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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Beer Exposed - a little after the event


Lots of these posts should have been up here a few weeks ago - anyway...

I posted (late) that I was doing Beer Exposed, a new event in London that took place during the last weekend in September.

I was interested when the organisers approached me because after my first visit to the Great American Beer Festival in 2005, I got very jealous of what they had and felt that it was infinitely superior to the Great British Beer Festival - why did beer festivals have to be restricted to real ale? If you allowed big brewers in didn't that give more money to make the whole event a little more polished? Wasn't it a good idea to have small tasting glasses so people could sample more beers? And would it be possible to pay an entry fee and then let people just try the beer without having to pay any more?

My outspoken piece in the trade press led to a very entertaining war of words and quite public feud with Roger Protz, who saw himself as CAMRA's appointed guard dog. This feud ended when I wrote a piece on the Great Yorkshire Beer and Food Show a year later, during which I realised there was room for more than one kind of beer festival: let CAMRA preach to the converted, there was clearly a market for it, and there was room for a different kind of beer festival alongside the GBBF rather than us always putting pressure in CAMRA to wake up and smell the 21st century.

Well, Beer Exposed turned out to be almost exactly the kind of event I was imagining. It was a big risk, run as it was for the first time by a couple of guys who were not known to the beer industry. Many of the big names in brewing stayed away. The numbers of attendees were not as high as the organisers had hoped and they almost certainly lost money. But this was year one, and the feedback from those who attended suggests next year can only be bigger and better.

There were real ale brewers, extreme beers, US beers and lagers from all across the world. Stalls were staffed by the brewers themselves rather than CAMRA volunters. Without the need to take cash, the brewers were free to talk to drinkers about their beers, and many brewers I spoke to said this was the highlight of the event - being able to meet the punter and discuss the beers they love creating.

The people who attended the festival were, in the main, not beer afficionados but people who were curious about beer, knew very little and wanted to learn more - about a 50-50 split between men and women. The walks I did around the floor were well-attended by people who wanted to learn about different varieties of hops! It was proof that there is a big audience out there who want to embrace more interesting beer - and are prepared to pay £17 entrance fee to do so.

With the addition of slops bins, glass washing stations and a bit more food, this could be the perfect beer festival.

6 comments:

Velky Al said...

Sounds like a superb idea and a good setup - especially being able to meet the people behind the brews.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Sounds like the European Beer Festival in Copenhagen would be pretty much your ideal festival. You have to pay for the beer (in small taster glasses) with tokens, but you still get to talk to the brewers themselves. It has beer from all over: US, New Zealand, a big UK cask ale stand (with an option to get half-pints), Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Norway, ... There was great food, slop bins, lots of water, etc etc

Zythophile said...

While it's true that there is room for Camra-=style festivals as well, that's not to say GBBF couldn't be dramatically improved, even within the sort of parameters Camra wants to stick to. I hope the fact that the Olympics means no GBBF at Earls Court in 2012 will give Camra the opportunity to rethink the whole operation and realise that, as you say, Pete, this is the 21st century and not Covent Garden 1975.

Mario (Brewed for Thought) said...

It makes me sad to know that you Brits don't have the beer festivals we have here. I have no idea how CAMRA would run a festival as there are essentially two formats here: one fee for all you can drink or a smaller fee and tokens for samples.

Pete, please come visit us, and join us at our festivals. We have tiny little glasses with plenty of tokens waiting for you.

Laurent Mousson said...

The format Danish Beer Enthusiasts operate in their festivals, such as the recent European beer festival, with tokens and small glasses lined at 5 and 10cl (1 token getting you 10cl of the average stuff or 5cl of the strongest beers) indeed is quite practical when you're out to sample many different beers. The problem, though, is that your glass seems to run dry all the time. ;o)

The way DBE have sorted the glass washing station question is amazingly simple : water fountains scattered all over the festival, each with a large plastic jerrycan equipped with a broad funnel. The idea is that you pour a bit of water in your glass and dump the contents into the funnel.
A a side effect, as the water comes from an apparatus associated in peoples' minds with drinking water, it does work well as an incentive to have a glass of water now and again during the session.
The downside is that you need staff bringing empty jerrycans and taking full ones away, which is ok when you work with volunteer staff, but may prove costly if you have to pay people to do it.

Cheers !

Laurent

Anonymous said...

I didn't make it to BE, but noticed London Drinker gave it a fair preview. I did hear one senior CAMRA bod holds the view that 'the Americans can't teach us anything'. I've worked at GBBF and at fests in NYC, and there are good and bad points for both. I was surprised at the drunkenness in NY, considering people got 4oz pours, and logistically, they were as dependent on volunteers as a CAMRA fest. The same issues about water and rinse stations also came up. Still, while CAMRA use theirs as a vehicle to promote cask, there's room for both, although I guess we'll see if there's any momentum behind a fest where the beer is for tasting, not necking...