How was what? IndyManBeerCon of course. Well if you read some of the gushings on the blogoshere it was the best thing since sliced bread. It was awesome. OK. Was it really? Actually, it was pretty good and I can see where many with leanings towards such an event happening, would be impressed. It did a lot of things right. First of all in any beer festival is to get, if at all possible, an impressive venue. Most festivals fail on that score right away. Impressive venues are hard to come by and they cost a lot. This was an impressive venue. A gorgeous, partially renovated set of Victorian Swimming Baths; a wonder of brick and tile. loads to look at and no smell of chlorine. It was a fantastic venue. Awesome even. A major tick before a drop of beer had been consumed and most customers seemed keen to view it in all its splendour, gawping happily, beer in hand.
Then there is the beer of course and this lived up to its promise, with a cask area and a keg area, each in a different swimming pool, one covered over(cask) and one (keg)reached by descending a set of stairs to the pool itself. That would have made disabled access somewhat difficult, so a minus there I suppose. The cask bar was set up in more or less traditional manner, with a bar and handpumps. It served a decent selection of beers, though as is the way of beer festivals, some were better than others and the range was a tad limited if you were a fan of milds, stouts and speciality beers. Seating was German beer garden bench style and I thought that worked really well. It provided a touch of difference and helped the atmosphere. The keg bar area was another kettle of fish entirely. No seating at all and just a set of tables for several brewers to serve from, with the beer behind. Variety wasn't a problem here at all, with the brewers (and yes, it a lot of cases it was them) dispensing their chosen range. Or was it chosen by the organisers? I don't know. Either way it was different and it seemed to work well. The keg selection was better on the Friday night, but as beers go off and on, that would no doubt have changed.
So from a veteran festival organiser's point of view, what did I think? Well I liked it by and large. The venue and organisation was great. It did what it set out to do, though it was undeniably very expensive. Ten pounds plus to get in and prices from £3.00 a pint to £9 odd a pint* ) served in thirds is pretty hefty. Brewers serving their own beers was innovative for the UK, but I wonder how that worked? I know the beer was bought from them, but did they offer their services free for the weekend? If not, subsidising the brewers may explain some of the prices, but if not, how sustainable is that model? Brewers aren't charities by and large. The food offerings worked well too for the kind of crowd attracted, which on the Friday night at least, for the most part, was young, geeky, well heeled and predisposed to the offerings and prices. Some have claimed that the third pints only rule was restrictive and yes, it was a nuisance to have to go to the bars so often and would have been even more so if the place was more crowded, but it wasn't, presumably because of fire limits. I didn't mind that aspect, though it could only work in this kind of festival with this kind of crowd.
BrewDog, oddly, had a separate bar, set in one of the many tiled side rooms and occupied by a rash of its fanboys and girls, with loud music and an atmosphere that was totally different to the main festival itself. I don't know whose idea that was, but I feel it would have been better to have BD on the inside of the tent. It seemed to me they were on the outside doing what people on the outside of tents do. Put them along with everyone else next time.
So we had that elusive mixture of keg and cask. Some claimed that as inclusive, but I reckon it's horses for courses. Inclusive to me is way more than just beer. It does show it can be done (at a price) and that there is a demand for it and those like Port St Beer House, who understand the cask/keg mix are the sort of guys that can put on a show for a targeted audience. And it was a targeted audience. I won't mention the beer. Others have done that already, except to say, while I liked a lot of the keg beer, I do wonder if the expensive ingredients that apparently justify the high prices, would be quite so needed if the beer wasn't served so ice cold and so carbonated that taste is affected. Anyway, I digress.
Should it be a regular event? Well I think, as I hinted in my opening remarks that some commentators have got a bit carried away. It didn't change the world, but of course it should continue if the economics stack up and demand exists - and I am sure that demand does exist. It was different and interesting enough to make it worthwhile and provides an alternative to mainstream real ale festivals for those whose boat is best floated that way. That can't be bad surely? I mentioned getting it right. I doubt that there are many in the craft beer world that understand their audience better than Port St Beer House. They pulled off a good show by understanding their potential customers and putting the hard work in to make it a reality. Well done them.
Finally, choice is a good thing, but how it is offered is surely up to those that organise such things. Let's just let beer festivals do it their way. Their audience and their risk after all.
* You got a free glass and two beer tokens as part of admission. Tokens were £10 for 11
My "What the HELL is craft beer?" bit will be coming next.