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.