Tag: Latitude

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Beer festivals and festival beer: how Carslberg is missing a trick with its music sponsorship

You can have anything you want. So long as you want Tuborg.

When I’m not propping up the bar in a good pub, I like nothing better than jumping up and down and shouting at men with guitars.

I’ve been doing a great deal of the latter this summer at music festivals. The first time I went to Glastonbury in 1987 most people hadn’t heard of it, and for those who had, to suggest going was about the same as suggesting you quit your job, start freebasing crack and buy a mangy dog on a piece of string.

In 1987, the only mention of Glastonbury in the national media was the number of arrests (it was never pointed out that this number was always far lower than in any town of a population size equivalent to the festival over the weekend). Now it gets wall-to-wall coverage, and tickets are impossible to come by. And so we’ve seen a huge proliferation of festivals, with several happening every weekend from June to September. When we look at declining beer sales figures every summer, it’s a shame these events aren’t monitored. The picture might look a little different if we could take into account a hundred thousand people drinking steadily for three days each weekend.

Festivals are now big business, and big brands are all over them. And this led to two very different beer experiences at the festivals I attended this summer.

The Latitude Festival is held just outside Southwold in Suffolk. Recently it was taken over by Festival Republic, who also run Reading, Glastonbury and various other festivals. The organisation has signed a deal with Carlsberg to supply Tuborg lager and Somersby cider to all these festivals. At Latitude, at the ten or so bars around the festival site, Tuborg was the only lager on offer, Somersby the only cider. Hobgoblin was on sale too – for some reason. Whether Carlsberg thought this was a better bet than their own Tetley’s beer, or festival republic signed a separate ale deal with Marston’s, I’m not sure.

I have nothing against Carlsberg really, even if I don’t drink much of it myself.  Tuborg is no better or worse than its mainstream competitors. Personally I don’t like Somersby, but other people do. And while I like the odd pint of Hobgoblin, it’s far too dark and heavy for a sunny festival weekend. After all, it’s achieved huge success by positioning itself as a beer for late Autumn. With these beers as the only choices on offer, anywhere, for four days, I ended up simply not drinking very much beer.

The Green Man Festival in South Wales is very different. It’s still independent. This year there was a real ale tent stocking 99 different Welsh ciders and cask ales. At the other beer tents on the festival site,
the selection was different from the Festival Republic formula, but just as narrow. 
And here we saw a fascinating experiment emerge. 
The queue in the real ale tent was never less than six deep, from midday to midnight. Men and women from eighteen to sixty stood around discussing the list, asking each other for tips. It took at least twenty minutes to get served. The ciders and perrys started running out on the Thursday night, before the festival had even begun properly. By Saturday everything had gone, and they were sending vans around Wales to grab whatever beer and cider they could to fill the empty stillages. 
By contrast, you could walk up to any other bar on site and get served straight away by bored staff, grateful for something to do. Ironically, after championing cask ale for a living and writing so much about interesting beer, I spent a lot of Green Man drinking their generic lager because I didn’t have time to queue for the good stuff between bands.
I’ve been in meetings where brand sponsorship of events is worked out. According to its website, Carlsberg likes to think that “the Tuborg brand is building a youthful, fun image through sponsorship of music and live festivals.” I’m sure the idea is that people will try Tuborg or Somersby at festivals, having no choice to drink anything else, and then grow to like it and order it next time they see it, because they now associate it with good times. 
But I fear it doesn’t work like that. People go to festivals (of any kind) because they want to see and try something different from the norm – whether that be bands, comedians, writers, food or drink. It’s one of the biggest examples of consumers seeking ever-greater variety in all walks of life. To go to a festival and be confronted with a range of drinks that any pub in the country would consider too narrow is anathema to the whole experience, and leaves a lingering bad aftertaste.

Of course as a beer purist it would be easy to say Carlsberg shouldn’t sponsor festivals, festivals shouldn’t be corporate, and everyone should celebrate small and independent. But the real world doesn’t work like that. Green Man retains an overall better atmosphere than any other festival I know because of its independence, but the price of that independence is that there’s no budget to book decent headliners – at least, there wasn’t this year. Thanks in part to Carlsberg’s dosh, I got to see Kraftwerk at Latitude. 
So the bog brands aren’t going to go away. I just wish they’d be a bit cleverer and show more of an understanding of what festival-goers want. Like any other multinational brewer, Carlsberg has a wide range of brands in their portfolio and is always looking at new product development. They have the Jacobsen and Semper Ardens beers, dark lagers and Belgian beers and stouts and wheat beers from around the world. Why not use festivals as a testing ground instead? With this captive audience, why not try new brews under the Tetley’s brand, or see how Carlsberg and Tuborg perform side by side, or see if there’s a UK market for their eastern European bocks or amber lagers?

I’m sure sales figures from the summer’s festivals were great. But as the glorious, independent experiment at Green Man proved, I’m positive they could have been even better.

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Sun, Rain and Jeremy Hardy

Played my biggest gig to date on Friday – reading and talking about Hops and Glory on the literary stage at the wonderful Latitude Festival.  

After David Peace pulled out I was moved up the bill, and given a slot between comedian Jeremy Hardy and thriller writer Mark Billingham.  I was due to talk for fifteen minutes, finishing just before the Pet Shop Boys took the main stage.
But it didn’t quite work out like that.  
Jeremy Hardy is a very funny comedian, a perennial favourite at festivals and on Radio 4.  The tent was packed as I stood in the wings and waited for him to finish.  And waited.  And waited.  
Ten minutes after I was due to go on, and with the compere making big eyes at him from the side of the stage, Hardy wound up – but before finishing, he invited a very cute nine year old girl on stage who promptly began to turn cartwheels around the small space.  The tent went wild.  And then, another even cuter little girl appeared with a birthday cake and presented it to him.  The whole tent sang happy birthday, and finally Hardy left the stage.  How on earth could I follow that?
As he disappeared, so did most of the audience.  The synth strains of ‘Opportunity’ wafted across the valley from the main stage.  “Do stay around!” pleaded the compere, “We’ve got lots more great comedy coming up with… Pete Brown!”  
Oh, this was just great.
Fortunately I do now have an ‘act’ where I talk about the book, and it does have a few jokes in it.  I took the stage and outside the spotlight I could see nothing.  I had no idea if anyone was left in the tent apart from BLTP and Mrs PBBB.  With images of birthday cakes and cartwheeling nine year-olds fresh in my mind, I said, “Um… I think I’m about to bring the tone down a little”, and started talking about Brazilian prostitutes.
Fifteen minutes later I came off stage.  Some people clapped.  One person cheered, but it sounded like BLTP.  I’m told there were actually about 150 people in the audience, and that they laughed, but I couldn’t hear them.
Oh, and the Pet Shop Boys were brilliant – even if you don’t normally like that sort of thing.
The pink sheep were a great crowd.  Everyone else watched Pet Shop Boys.

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Put a little Berghaus in your soul

It was wet and cold in the middle of July, when the rest of the country seems to have had a lovely weekend, but the Latitude Festival, in a gorgeous, leafy park with oak trees centuries-old and a silvery lake, was the perfect end to two weeks of birthday celebrations. I think the sheep, dyed pink, and the punts on the aforementioned lake, were there just for the weekend, but apparently the rest of it is there all the time.

Since turning forty I’m convinced that my knees are going and I’ve started getting heartburn and my back aches, and I really like sitting down much, much more than I used to, but for four days it was splendid to meet friends I don’t see often enough and behave like a bunch of teenage lads. The ailments, if I’m honest, are probably due to too much beer for too long.

Latitude is the perfect destination for anyone who thinks Glastonbury has lost its spirit. Great bands and brilliant comedy were punctuated by strolls to the literature and poetry tents. You could even go and see Sadlers Wells doing a bit of ballet if the mood took you (it didn’t take me).

One of the nicest surprises was at the drinks tent. Alongside Tuborg lager (hey, it’s better than Glasto’s Budweiser) and Aspall’s cider were two ales I’d never heard of before, and both were mighty fine.

It turns out that Hektor’s Brewery is actually on site, in Henham Park, the location of the festival. They supplied two beers: Pure, a clean 3.8% golden ale with a lovely crisp, citrussy hop finish, and Scarecrow, a darker, richer beer at 5%, full-bodied and maltier but still with a delightful hop edge to it that suggests American hops have been involved somewhere along the line, though their website says it’s just full of English hops.

It was with mixed feelings that I took the news that every one of the festival’s five bars had run out of Scarecrow by Saturday afternoon – only half way through the festival. No more lovely 5% beer for me, but you’ve got a love that kind of emphatic endorsement from the youngest festival crowd I’ve ever seen. Up to that point, each time I was at the bar every single order included at least one pint of it, among the ciders and the lagers. I’ve no idea what the product mix was, but ale must have had a higher share than it enjoys in most of the high street pubs in whihc these guys usually drink.

By Sunday it was getting difficult to find Pure as well – they had some left at two of the bars buy Sunday evening. My mates started off drinking cider. After they tried the Pure, they never went back.
A couple of damn fine beers, enjoyed so much more outside, in front of the best bands currently strutting their stuff.

Thanks Latitude – see you next year.