Friday, 20 July 2012

Progressive Beer Festivals

It has been an increasing irritation for some time that there has yet to be a really great, all embracing beer festival in this country. Beer enthusiasts and progressive brewers alike have been frustrated that there is yet to be non-constraining festival where beers can be shown off irrespective of dispense method.

It was only a matter of time, of course, but it seems that the chit-chat about it has finally turned into real action.

There are to be at least two events happening this autumn which will include beer dispensed in a variety of ways. One is the Leeds International Beer Festival. We will be there.

This event is taking place in the Leeds Town Hall1 6th-9th September 2012.

We have agreed to take part in this great event. The organisers are allowing breweries to pitch up with whatever format of beer they wish. For logistical reasons we have taken the decision to serve only keg and bottled beers. As it is, with our small team, it will be something of a challenge, so we feel that the extra problems of cask would make it impossible.

There is also a second event we have heard about, which will be great fun, but as yet news is sketchy. This is the Independent Manchester Beer Convention, which will be held on 5th and 6th October 2012. We've been invited to this too. Watch this space for more news.

We're all full of nervous anticipation about these great events. 2012 is turning out to be a fantastic year for all sorts of reasons.


1I'm sure Leeds is a city, surely it should be a city hall?


Ed said...

Can't say I've been frustrated. I must be a reactionary ;-)

Dave Bailey said...

No Ed, I didn't somehow think you would be in the frustrated few I mention.....

StringersBeer said...

Sounds super. Leeds became a city (officially) years after the town hall was built.

Stono said...

but its a fair point to make, if people were that irritated or frustrated about it, why did they not do more to make it happen themselves sooner.

beer festivals dont just organise themselves, they arent run as pop-ups or charities, they require people to give time, effort and a lot of money to make them happen, so you have to say that really it took "so long" for one to appear that met these specific criteria for all these frustrated progressive brewers, and who are the reactionary ones, because no one was that bothered enough to do it

StringersBeer said...

And don't forget the SIBA Great Northern Beer Festival (in Manchester) at the end of October. Some of that's quite progressive, right?

Dave Bailey said...


Yes indeed, you make a very fair point. Beer festivals do take a fair bit of organising. CAMRA festivals are organised largely by volunteers. These volunteers give up time for free because they believe in the cause.

The reality is that these two new festivals are being organised, as far as I can see, on a much more commercial footing. To make it work the brewers are going to have to provide more support, I expect.

Stringers, are you provoking me? I liked the SIBA festival last year, I did. But, to not include a keg bar at regional level is an omission in my view.

These two festivals approached us because they recognise Hardknott as part of a new group of breweries who are doing something different, something that could revitalise a stagnant beer world. I have to work with the festivals that suit my business best. I'd like to work with SIBA, but they are not moving fast enough, and treat little guys like us as unimportant, unless you know different.

Tandleman said...

The point for CAMRA, even if willing, is that as Dave implies, we don't have the ability (well the time and kit really) to do keg.

Non cask festivals are much harder and need brewers to do a lot for themselves. The beauty of CAMRA stuff is they sell it to us, we sell it to you.

I'll be away for the Leeds do but will certainly be at the Manchester one.

Be interesting to see how the logistics and other costs are passed on to the consumer.

Tandleman said...


"As it is, with our small team, it will be something of a challenge, so we feel that the extra problems of cask would make it impossible."

Yep. Stillaging that cask, venting it, tapping it and connecting it to a handpump is a right bugger! :-)

Dave Bailey said...


Take your point about CAMRA not having the kit and also the advantage that CAMRA do all the work.

However, I disagree that non-keg is harder. I suggest there are various aspects that are beneficial to either approach.

The disadvantage of cask is there is a need, if it is to be done well, for the casks to be set up, and appropriately cooled, a couple of days before the event. Yes, the equipment might be simpler, although I could disagree there too.

The keg itself does not need to be cooled for dispense. Yes, as you know, careful balance of gas pressures are needed if the keg is at room temperature. But there are many very satisfactory temporary bars set up in community halls up and down the country for weddings, village fates and the like.

We will only have to pitch up with a few KeyKegs, an under bar flash chiller, a gas bottle and regulator and our trusty multi head cobra font the morning of the opening and we can rock out beer later that day. You can't do that with cask, unless it's racked bright.

It will indeed be interesting to see how costs will be passed on. It's true that CAMRA beer festivals represent fantastic value for money. However, if you look at the success of PSBH and BrewDog bars it is clear to see that beer drinkers are not always influenced by price.

Tandleman said...

Fair point about cask in some ways. the point about charging will be interesting though. Not sure at all how the thing will be done. Will there be cross subsidy? Do you rent your space and make your own charge? Is there beer provided by the organisers and how is that priced? Be instructive to find out.

Could throw up some anomalies shall we say?

StringersBeer said...

Provoking? Me? "Stimulating" I'd hope. I can't see a good, principled argument for SIBA keeping their members' keg separate from the cask & bottles. We're not the brewing arm of CAMRA. And I'm all for diversity & that. My worry would be that these "progressive" micro-fests end up looking like some punk revival weekend at some rundown seaside holiday park.

Dave Bailey said...


I'm not sure I'm at liberty to divulge the commercial aspects. I do expect pricing to be higher than CAMRA festivals for all the reasons we have discussed.


To be fair to SIBA I don't believe principles to be the main influence on keeping keg separate. As I see it the logistics of having more to do more, different equipment and the fact that the CAMRA volunteers who help it happen wouldn't help with the keg stuff, are all barriers. There then might be "old school" SIBA activists who have then got no desire to overcome the barriers.

Will these fests turn out to be as you fear? I hope not, and will do what I can to help prevent it, but the danger is there, I'll admit. A lot of hard work is the answer I expect.

John Clarke said...

"...the fact that the CAMRA volunteers who help it happen wouldn't help with the keg stuff.."

Err, they've told you that have they, or is this just an assumption on your part?

StringersBeer said...

SIBAs GNBF just plain wouldn't happen without the help of CAMRA. There's a good synergy there. The volunteers don't seem to have a problem being in the same room as filtered / carbonated bottled beers - I'm sure they wouldn't suddenly transform into a pitchfork wielding mob if a keg bar appeared at one end on the room some year.

As it stands, it seems that there's so much cask turned out and so little indie-keg, that regional (keg) competitions aren't worthwhile. Perhaps there's a vicious circle there. I hope this changes. More of everything's what we want.

RedNev said...

"The frustrated few" - precisely, Dave, few.

RedNev said...

John questions "the fact that the CAMRA volunteers who help it happen wouldn't help with the keg stuff"

I've worked at CAMRA festivals since 1985 and I definitely wouldn't, and I doubt that most of the CAMRA members I know would.

Tandleman said...

So do I. It doesn't mean it won't work, but it suggests that again, it is a non inclusive thing. Higher prices for the crafteratti.

It is becoming the defining nature of so called craft. Not a problem though. Craft wants to take beer in a new direction.

That's another niche to go at.

Dave Bailey said...

Interesting comments.

John, fair point, it is my assumption. However, I'd feel that it would be wrong to ask. Should they offer, well, that would be great.

Stringers, absolutely, all I'm saying is that we couldn't expect them to help out in providing that keg bar.

Nev, I don't know what other CAMRA members would say if asked to help at a keg bar. I expect our John above might just be happy to help.

Tandy, I don't think people will be means tested upon entry. I'm sure everyone will be welcome.

Besides, if you choose well, a strong keg beer can represent excellent value for money when you count up your units.

John Clarke said...

Yes, I would certainly help and I'm pretty sure there are plenty of other CAMRA people who would too. I was at the (non-CAMRA) Barrow Hill Beer Festival this year and there was a "craft keg" bar there - cheerfully staffed by CAMRA people including the local branch chairman.

Tandleman said...

I'm with John generally. As for affordability, sipping beer instead of drinking it properly, is a nil sum game for me, except in the context of tastings. That's why I'm usually just content with a sip and then find something to drink.

And it is non inclusive in my view. Beer was always the great leveller because of its affordability. If that goes then we have a whole different ball game.

RedNev said...

John: what percentage of your local CAMRA membership did those helpers represent? I'm guessing, but I doubt it was much more than 1%.

John Clarke said...

Vev, I don't know because it's not my branch. I am however pretty sure that a large part of the active membership of the local branch was working at the festival. Obviously those working on the "craft keg" bar would be rather less than that - but the point I think is that they were working there.

Dave Bailey said...

Tandy, we've been here with this argument before, and we always have a slight difference of opinion. The vast majority of beer is where you want it to be, that is unlikely to change. I don't see any problem with introducing more diversity, it puzzles me why you object.

RedNev said...

It's Nev, actually. I see, John, that you don't have an answer to my point. Unless the CAMRA members I know are all completely unrepresentative of the Campaign, and I know loads in many branches, most in my experience would not work on a keg bar.

Anonymous said...

On a different point, Leeds Town Hall was built 1853-58, whereas Leeds achieved city status in 1893. It's still called the Town Hall, although we have a "city council" etc and its seat is in the 1930s Leeds Civic Hall on Millenium Square.


Tandleman said...

Dave - I don't object, I observe. Personally I like to drink beer, not sip beer. Others can suit themselves.

On the broader front I said above

"Higher prices for the crafteratti. - It is becoming the defining nature of so called craft. Not a problem though. Craft wants to take beer in a new direction.

That's another niche to go at."

No objection there surely? I think it is a perfectly valid thing to do. It is a niche with the potential to make money and do something different. I just observe that it is a dear do.

city said...

.thanks for sharing

Benjamin Nunn said...

Just my view, but if you're only doing keg and bottles then it's not truly 'all embracing' any more than a traditional cask-orientated CAMRA festival.

It gives choices to the brewers, but not to the drinkers.

To my mind 'all embracing' would mean that drinkers can get to choose the method of dispense. No reason why there shouldn't be systems that can do this though - cask with an attached mechanism for real-time re-reracking into a keykeg perhaps.

RedNev said...

We mustn't be taken in by the propaganda of brewers who just want an easy life: stifle the fermentation, swamp it with gas and then just learn how to use a spanner to serve it. Next: "Dave's Guide to Processed Cheese", and his definitive "Good Sterilised Milk Guide".

Dave Bailey said...

Benjamin, you have a valid point in some ways. I'd actually like to do keg, bottles and cask, but I don't think it's practical in this case. I believe that some breweries may turn up with cask for this festival, although I'm not sure on that.

Nev, I'm quite sure you will continue to believe whatever you want to believe. But putting beer into keg is certainly not an easy thing to do, especially for a brewer who has minimal equipment like us.

It is important for us to minimise filtering and other forms of processing certainly pasteurisation or sterile chill filtering we avoid. We currently haven't got the gear to do it.

It's all more about our business having something different. We have more demand for our keg products than our cask products.

I'm quite happy to continue to put beer into cask. It's actually easier, generally. Providing there is still a demand for our beer in cask we'll continue to put it into cask.

For this particular festival it would just be impossible for us to put on cask because we have not got the time to turn up more than 24 hours ahead of the start of the festival.