Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Why I'm Over Beer Festivals

When your body clock is fucked and you're laying awake at 5am, your brain goes into overdrive. You start to ponder the questions, trials and hardships life throws at you; that big project you've got on, and whether you'll pass your appraisal at work, but then when you finally accept that you can't tackle any of those issues right now you start thinking about trivial shit.

Like Beer Festivals.

In February, I went to two conversely different beer festivals in two countries. The National Winter Ales Festival in Norwich, England; and Braukunst Live in Munich, Germany; and both experiences led me to the conclusion that I am over beer festivals. I'm not saying either were particularly bad festivals (hey remember London's Brewing from 2013?) but I'm just over them and here is why:

You have your two main kinds of festival Local/Regional CAMRA festival & Craft Beer Festival so let's start with the former.

CAMRA Festival (Norwich Beer Fest/NWAF):

Back when I was 18, the Norwich pub scene was pretty much dead. Don't get me wrong, we had plenty of pubs - indeed possibly more than we do now due to closures - but we didn't have much variety in those pubs. Pubs just generally didn't seem to have access to much other than the normal local breweries, large regionals and occasionally something like Dark Star (other than maybe the Fat Cat), so a beer festival was exciting. A beer festival managed to get lesser known beers from what were then known as microbreweries* and trying all of these new beers was incredible.

The thing is, now in Norwich we have SO MUCH CHOICE with the likes of The Plasterers, Brewdog & The Reindeer (the list could go on) who each do their own thing incredibly well by getting in wonderful beers, from independent craft breweries through a network of great independent wholesalers like Jolly Good Beer. You've also got the choice of going to shops like Harper Wells, or ordering from Beers of Europe to buy bottles and cans to drink in the comfort of your own home.

To get the choice that you had at beer festivals back in 2007 you no longer have to elbow your way through an overcrowded church hall**, just to get to the bar and find out there's nothing you want to drink right in front of you. You can sit in a pub and hear your friends; you can have a decent beer at home with your dinner; there's just so much choice available that the beer festival has become obsolete.

Modern Craft Festival (Braukunst Live):

Now there are essentially three types of Modern Craft Beer Festivals; The pay for entry and drink unlimited thimble fulls of anything you want (London Craft Beer Festival; Copenhagen Beer Celebration); the ones that are similar to CAMRA ones where you can actually buy a full glass of beer (Craft Beer Rising; Leeds International Beer Festival); and ones like the one I went to a month ago where you pay an entry fee then either pay for tiny pours in cash or with tokens.

See, Braukunst Live was fun but an expensive affair, well for entry anyway. €20 (plus booking fee) entry, then a fiver for a glass and 5 tokens for beer that nowhere it was explained we could use them.

Beer was generally €1 for a 100ml pour which to be honest, wasn't bad considering in craft beer bars in Germany you will regularly pay €5 for a 330ml pour, and there were some great breweries and beers but I just can't seem to get over the fact that I COULDN'T BUY A FULL FUCKING GLASS OF BEER.

I want to stand and savour the beer, not have one mouthful and be like "Huh, OK that was good but I could have done with more" and it almost seems selfish and embarrassing to go back and buy more when there are probably limited supplies.

Quirky venue, too, which didn't do it any favours when it was crowded. Who picks a fucking transport museum for a beer festival? Sure you can move some exhibits but not great big fucking trams that are hard to manouvre around when there are so many people, and so many tight squeezes to get to bars.

Of course, there were good beers, many of which we can't get back home. The Stone Berlin Skull Jacked Triple IPA was clearly the beer of the festival, rocking up at a rather weighty 9.1% and packed full of tropical fruits, with surprisingly low bitterness, and given the choice I would have filled my goddamn Teku with it. BRLO are another favourite of the modern Germans of mine and I got to try their German IPA which could not be complained at. Many other beers that I would have loved a full glass of, but it just wasn't a thing because of this craft beer ticking culture.

A mouthful of beer is fine when you're doing a bottle share with the guys at home, because that's what it's all about, but at a busy festival I don't want to get so little beer that I almost die of thirst whilst waiting for my next beer.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm having a beer life crisis; I'd rather be in a pub where I'm free to drink as much or as little as I want, whether it's a third, a half or a pint and not be limited to small pours or whatever the festival organisers want to drink, without a thought for anyone else.

Nate

*for the modern drinker, that's what we called 'craft brewery' back in the day.
**exception for NWAF due to the fact is was dead because a lack of any kind of marketing.