What makes a British Beer Festival great?

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12 Responses

  1. Ken Paul says:

    Laura, I attended this year for my 15th consecutive year. I meet up with former work colleagues , which I only see for 6 hours once a year.
    The trick is to check the beer list before you go, note the ones you want to try ( and hope some are still on.),it saves a lot of time . Getting there at opening time helped as I grabbed a table for the 8 of us, which we used as a base for the day.



  2. Mike says:

    In days gone by, as real ale was disappearing from pubs and when there was far less choice of beer styles and flavours to be found, going to a beer festival represented an opportunity to try new brews from near and far. In recent years, with increased availability of real ale in pubs, including a good variety of styles from the ever increasing number of small brewers, visiting pubs is more attractive to me than beer festivals which somehow never seem to have that pub ambiance I so enjoy.

    Visits to one of the ever increasing number of micro-pubs rarely disappoints – long live tie-free hostelries – in particular the opportunity to socialise without intrusive music, sports TV, or gaming machines.

    As others have suggested, perhaps the beer festivals’ raison-d’etre has been and gone..

    • Laura says:

      Thanks Mike, yes this is an interesting point and ties into the debate about CAMRA’s future too…

  3. I know many people share the view expressed, just as many do enjoy these big events, as I do.

    I like talking to people there, but primarily focus on a few beer types. Not so much the breweries – I had the guide but hardly used it – but specific types I saw listed at the stands: bitter or strong ale, black or brown IPA, an American or German beer or two.

    I’ve attended a few small, regional CAMRA festivals. Given my focus on the beer, I didn’t really find them all that different except I tasted a much larger proportion of beers available than at GBBF with its huge range.

    We are all different and the big festival format suits some, not others. You explained well why many prefer the smaller-scale format, or pub.

    Best wishes.


    • Laura says:

      Thank you for your perspective Gary. I was trying to be quite careful not to say there was anything wrong with GBBF – this is just my perspective as you say. I tend to choose according to beer type too – and either from a brewery I know or one I don’t depending on my mood!

  4. Andy says:

    For various reasons Ive never experienced the GBBF (but am possibly going down to volunteer next year) so I cant speak from experience of it, but you echo some of my misgivings about attending. Yet I’m buoyed up threat Ive never had that experience at the large (but admittedly smaller than GBBF) Manchester Beer and Cider Festival at Manchester Central. Yes its large but Ive never found it lacking of randoms to plonk your butt down on a bench next to and chat away about beer and generally put the world to rights. Maybe its a Northern thing!! What is worrying though is what seems to be a trend of falling attendances at Beer Festivals. Maybe there are just too many, these days the world and his wife are organising them, not just CAMRA, from the local rotary club,to charities, heritage railways and even individual pubs. Not that I’ve got anything against that, I love beer fests but maybe we are at saturation point (no pun intended) and a festival devoid of a lot of happy imbibing customers is a dull one. Which brings it full circle to the GBBF, perhaps there’s just too much space for the amount of visitors rendering it a bit soulless?

    • Laura says:

      I would definitely agree with that. I was at the trade session, so I acknowledge it probably gets busier in the evenings and during the weekend, but I did just find it simply too big (physically).

  5. Elizabeth M. says:

    I get this. Despite being actively involved in CAMRA I’ve only been to GBBF a couple of times in he last decade. Its location is a pain (now the Underground service to Olympia has all but stopped); it’s soulless, uncomfortable and dear. If you go during the week, you run a gauntlet of drunk and often unpleasant London suits.

    I don’t think the Big Beer-driven Long Live The Local is the answer, though. I’d rather see a campaign that celebrated the pub, its idiosyncrasies and reach, and confronted its aggressors – yes, that same Big Beer in the form of pubcos and breweries like Heineken and Marston’s who muscle out small brewers and asset-strip pubs. That’s where CAMRA should really be at.

    • Laura says:

      Interesting Elizabeth. I went on the trade session so I suspect I was treated to the most amiable and benign crowd! I do like the Long Live the Local campaign, simply because Big Beer has a big reach. I am generally uncomfortable by takeovers, but having seen what it has done for Brixton brewery (I covered it a little here) there does seem to be the potential for increasing reach while maintaining quality and identity…

  6. Mark says:

    I have the most fun when I go to the pub. I came to the conclusion several years ago that the reason I love going to the pub, and was increasingly finding going to beer festivals a bit of a bore, is I love pubs and pub culture much more than I love beer. As social events there are better and more interesting things to do for me than beer festivals. If you’re lucky enough to live in a reasonably sized town or city, theres enough beer choice now to make beer festivals somewhat pointless as places to explore beer. It’s interesting to know that attendance at (CAMRA) beer festivals seems to be on the slide, perhaps the concept has had its day. It’s been a few years since I went to the GBBF. I didn’t much like it, but then I fully appreciated even then that it wasn’t really ‘for’ me. Since then almost every beer festival I’ve enjoyed has dropped off my calendar. I’m down to Nottingham now, a festival that has been much more of a ‘festival’ than most for a few years now, hopefully the same at its new venue. If it isn’t, no great loss for me, Nottinghams pubs are excellent…

    • Laura says:

      Thanks Mark – yes the cup runneth over in Nottingham and here in Leicester too. I suspect there is an element of horses for courses – I like going somewhere new and that our local crowd often brew festival specials which increase their reportoire and sometimes take on a new life beyond the festival.

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