As we approach Easter, many pubs will be hosting their own beer festivals over the Bank Holidays. It’s a great opportunity for a pub to get in some beers out of the ordinary, expectantly in the knowledge that they will have sufficient customers to drink it fast enough. So I thought I would update some notes I made a while ago, concerning the differences between drinking beer at larger beer festivals (such as CAMRA fests) as opposed to drinking ale down the pub…
Beer festivals are a love for some and completely ignored by others, probably as the environments do vary so much, but then so do pubs…The real ale enthusiast who doesn’t mind travelling (by train obviously) can find a CAMRA beer fest virtually every weekend of the year in the UK, all organised and staffed by local beer enthusiasts. I have judged beers in CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain competition for several years, and have been involved in the Watford Festival for several years, so I have a good idea of what’s involved on both sides of the bar.
Nowadays, we try to hold beer festivals as often as we can. Mainly because that’s what we want from our local, and from a business point of view there is more interest in real ales from a wide range of pub-goers. It also keeps things interesting for the regulars.
So here are some pointers when considering attending a beer fest outside of a pub.
- Beer range is obviously much greater than any pub, which makes choosing difficult. Have a read of the programme first, and decide on the style or flavours you like. Ask the staff to help – they will be far more knowledgeable than most bar staff in pubs
- Clearly with so much beer comes alcohol, so don’t go buying a pint of everything you like – you’ll be drunk before you know it. The GBBF, and some other fests will have lots of half pint glasses and even 1/3rds, so you can try a small amount of many beers. A few pubs have 1/3 glasses, like The Land of Liberty, but they are few and far between.
- Food is usually available at beer festivals, and usually the type of food which acts as blotting paper – I suggest eating little and often, which helps slow down the rate of alcohol absorption (note only slows!)
- Busy periods (like Friday evenings) at beer fests will be very busy so if you prefer a quiet pint, go during the day. There probably won’t be much seating either! The larger beer festivals often host tasting events, so if you want some help assessing your tastes, then do ask about training.
- Most beer festivals are organised on an annual basis, so take a while to come around – suggest your favourite finds to local freehouses so they can source them regularly.
- Fests often include charity fund-raising, traditional games, live music and other fun events to entice first timers.
- Discounts or incentives are usually on offer if you join CAMRA at a beer festival too!
Here are my thoughts on pub beer festivals for comparison:
- Beer range may be limited in numbers – but should still offer a good range across the styles.
- Some pubs host the festival in a marquee or separate area of the pub – Watch out for temperature variations and flatter beers after a couple of days, as the usual cellar facilities won’t be available at the bottom of the garden! Those run from the cellar should offer more consistent quality.
- In a pub known for real ale, the staff will be great at helping you choose – if it’s not a known real ale pub, then you may have to do the research for yourself. They may not have a printed programme, but should be able to offer information on the beers at least.
- Many pubs will offer a tasting tray of thirds or halves, but you will probably need to order them at the same time, so consider sharing them with friends, so you can taste a batch at a time. The upside is you will get clean glasses instead of having to keep the same one as you do at a large festival. (If it’s busy, you may want to keep a cold glass, as the clean ones may be hot!)
- Pubs often have a large menu available as well as snacks, but again, I recommend eating little and often.
- Pubs have smaller beer festivals more often, so you don’t have to travel so far.
- Pubs will want to impress you to encourage you to become a regular – they all need your support.
- Pubs typically have events throughout the year – so if the beer festival is the event, there may not be room for other entertainment – but then there is always socialising!
I’m certainly looking forward to testing out all our beers before we offer them for sale! Cheers and Happy Easter.