In the last week of May, the St Ives Beer Festival takes place in Cornwall, organised by the county’s CAMRA branch. It’s not the biggest beer festival in the country, but’s it’s still a good size — more than 60 beers fill one wall of the town’s Guildhall, and there’ll be some cider, perry, bottled ales and all that. Of course, beer festivals like this don’t just happen. In the case of this one, and its bigger brother at Falmouth, later in the year, a well rehearsed operation of military-like proportions will swing into action three days or so prior to the first thirsty punter entering the door.
An experienced gang of at least a dozen CAMRA volunteers will assemble stillaging, get casks lifted, tapped and spiled, build the bar, sort out the kitchen where hot and cold food is available, erect the PA and sort out the festival entry point, including setting up a till, preparing the glasses and programmes — programmes which have been professionally produced and to which many sponsors have happily contributed.
I write this becomes it came to mind as I read this blog piece from The Evening Brews on the “disaster” that was the London’s Brewing beer festival earlier this month. There are more of these new style, non-CAMRA beer festivals being established. Now, in fairness, I didn’t go to London’s Brewing, but this isn’t the first critical blog I’ve read about it. I did go to Craft Beer Rising earlier in the year, and although it was pretty enjoyable, there were some organisational issues that could have been addressed.
I appreciate that the people running these new style craft beer festivals are probably trying to distance themselves from the traditional CAMRA beer festival. But, ironically, I think they could learn a lot by getting themselves along to a well-run CAMRA fest to see how it all works. They could even — because it’s hardly a trade secret — talk to the organisers of the festivals to try to pick up some tips.
I’m well known for having one or two points of disagreement with CAMRA, but their ability to successfully organise beer festivals is, in my experience, at least, not in question. Look and learn, new kids on the beer fest block.