The Great British Beer Festival – GBBF – Is it the best festival beer model?
On Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited to the trade session at the GBBF. The movers and shakers of the beer world were there from beer Bloggers like Rob from Hopzine, professional beer authors such as bestselling Pete Brown and most of the brewers from around the UK (including Sue from Waen who invited us). This is an epic beer festival and you could easily spend a month there and still not have the same beer twice. Although, you might not necessairly survive the experience!
The atmosphere at such an event is electric. We dodged between men dressed as old maidens, brass bands, tin hatted folk, balloon hatted folk and hords of drinkers (some without beards) to find beers from almost every corner of the UK and beyond. The two stand out beers for me were The Boggart rum Porter and I’m sure say this without the obvious bias, The Waen Blackberry stout.
As I’m currently writing a book about beer this was to be a mecca, indeed I was in the right place for a diverse range of beer. The trouble is, even when buying beers in third of a pint measures, it is difficult even for the most hardened of drinkers to try any more than 20 beers. I couldn’t help but wonder if a festival as described to me by Chad(an American homebrewer living in Brighton) could work. You pay an inflated price to get in, let’s say £20 or £30, and you help yourself to whichever beer you fancy. There are massive bins around the venue, in case that you change your mind about what you have served. So there is a downside and that’s wastage. However, after going to the cancelled “Beer on the Wye” festival in Hereford earlier I saw how much beer could be wasted when beer festivals go wrong. Also, some of the beers are not popular, “it’s the first time I’ve pulled that one”, was a familiar cry when I ordered some of the more perculiar beers at the GBBF.
This idea of a fee on the door is not a new model, it was used in the 16th Century by local churches. Once a year the church would brew a strong beer, you’d pay once at the door and drink what you liked. The money raised would help with the upkeep of the church (sure beats a jumble sale)!
I’m not saying that CAMRA beer festivals are not great fun and I’m not bashing them. What I am wondering is if there is another model that some beers festivals could try out. It’s a model I’d like to see, you could try just a snifter of each beer and settle on the ones you like. Just think how many beers you could get through! The brewers would be happy too as they would all get paid a set price and no-one would be set on how well the beer selling. But I guess it promotes binge drinking and as that has become demonised so would an authoritative body licence such an idea? Well I guess we won’t know unless we ask for it.