Thursday, 14 March 2013

A Very CAMRA Beer Fest

I went to the London Drinker Beer Festival Trade Session in Camden Town Hall last week. I haven't been to it in many years (over 20)and nothing much seemed to have changed. The hall is a typical square to oblong, local authority affair and it reminded me instantly of itself from memory, and the hall we used for years in Bury for the Bury Beer Festival, from bitter experience.

Now speaking as a beer festival organiser of many years standing, there is little you can do with such a place other than stillage the beer around the sides and try and tart the place up a little to make it more appealing. Price, location, availability and paucity of venues tend to dictate where beer festivals are held, not as some contest, a lack of imagination of behalf of the organisers, CAMRA or otherwise.

My main aim in attending here was to catch up on the new London brewers and this was the stated theme of the trade session, where a number of sponsored London beers were offered. I had my first tastes of quite a few breweries and as you might imagine, they were a bit of a mixed bag. So, a quick rundown: Portobello American Pale had decent hopping, little nose, but didn't hit any high spots. Crate IPA was underwhelming in body and hadn't conditioned properly. London Fields Brewing High Rise was good, with a nice mix of malt and hops. Clarence and Frederick's Golden Ale was a very drinkable beer, with decent bitterness and excellent condition. Sadly their IPA was a dumper, though my very brief notes don't say why. Windsor and Eton Tree Top impressed with its dark bitterness and coal dust finish, while Botanist Queen Charlotte was clean, herbal, slightly sweet, but likeable.  Pretty much as you'd expect really. Some good, some not so good, but no stunners unfortunately.

Yes a typical CAMRA Beer Festival, but none the worse for that.  The staff were cheerful and willing, the beers were as good as can be expected in this less than perfect venue and the trade session worked for me as a beer writer, in that I have started to catch up on some new London breweries. More research required though, as you can't really have more than an impression on a one off tasting. 

I left as the public were starting to be admitted.  There was a large queue outside.

Five new breweries for me. I'm almost a ticker!


Cooking Lager said...

I get why in the 70's people volunteered their time freely to put these sheebangs on. You wanted punters to come along, discover cask beer, learn about it and choose it in their regular drinking. It was campaigning for real ale at a time when it was in danger of disappearing.

What's the reason these days? I can see they make money to send to HQ. I can see the people involved enjoy it. It is social with like minded people and few free pints. I can see some commercial outfits benefit from the marketing exercise. The punters that go along seem to already be ale fans that would doubtless be in the pub drinking real ale if they were not at the festival. What is achieved these days?

Tandleman said...

Guess the reasons you state, recruiting new members and keeping CAMRA's profile up.

I think beer festivals do drag the odd punter out of their armchairs too.

Cooking Lager said...

Maybe, and I don't dispute all seem to enjoy it but I think the point has become habit rather than anything else. A kind of "we enjoy this so lets continue even if the point of the exercise is long forgotten" I mean there are even commercial festivals like that indyman one that ask for people to volunteer because CAMRA get away with it. Bizarre.

I may not want to raise money for CAMRA HQ because I think they piss it away campaigning for minimum pricing but why raise money for a commercial venture you have no stake in? If money raising is the point, just go to work that day and write a cheque for what you earned. It would be a greater amount.

Although my view may be skewed by being self employed. It's not a days annual leave and a jolly with friends, it's a day I cannot invoice for and a cost. Makes you a big mercurial I guess.

I get why someone might volunteer to help a charity or even a political party even if I don't. One day I might get why someone works behind the bar of a beer festival and doesn't get paid for it. When I do I will better understand the human condition.

Paul Bailey said...

"I left as the public were starting to be admitted. There was a large queue outside."

That final sentence encapsulates why I stopped going to London Drinker Beer Festival. That and your earlier description TM, of Camden Town Hall. Being squeezed into the centre of a box-shaped hall, with nowhere to sit down, and precious room even to stand without ones drink being knocked out of one's hand, is not my idea of fun.

In a nut-shell, the festival is a victim od its own success. On all three of my most recent visits to London Drinker I ended up leaving early, not because the beer was badly kept, or the selection was poor, but because of being packed sardine-like into the centre of a window-less hall, and having to push and shove my way through a throng of people every time I wanted a drink. The sheer pleasure, one year, of escaping from the hall, catching the Northern Line tube to Hampstead, and then walking across the Heath to the peace and quiet of the Spaniards Inn is indescribable.

I had the offer of attending this year's event, but declined for reasons already described.