Friday, 29 August 2014

Post GBBF Thoughts


There has been a little criticism of the recently closed Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) around social media.  It tends to centre on two things.  A feeling that the Great British Beer Swally isn't inclusive enough in terms of welcoming women (in particular, the selling of sexist T Shirts) and of course the allegation that somehow there isn't enough choice (diversity) and all beer isn't represented.

Now the first is complex.  In many years of representing Trade Union members (though not for over 20 years), cases involving gender were always the most difficult and emotive.  (It was just as difficult as a senior manager.) The issues (whatever they might be) are rarely seen the same way by everyone and that makes reaching an agreed conclusion - or even understanding - problematic to say the least.  Perception is involved and that's a very individual thing.  Though there are usually some things that seem obvious, when you get underneath it, a solution is often not as straightforward as you might think.  Now I must admit that I didn't even notice the T Shirt stand this year, but then again, I wasn't looking for it. I'm not a potential customer. I have it though on good authority that the same old offensive to female T Shirts were on sale.  Tasteless and insulting I agree.  Is the answer to ban them?  On balance yes.  Anything that makes even a minority of female guests at GBBF uncomfortable isn't a good idea and it would seem a quick and simple fix.  It shouldn't be beyond T Shirt sellers and producers capability to find other more appealing themes surely?  Thankfully I haven't heard allegations about women being denied pints or strong beer this year - or other mockings. Yet.

On the wider front, looking around this year, my perception was that a lot more female volunteers were working behind the bars (many in Bar Manager or Deputy positions) and many more behind the scenes that you don't see  - in Staffing, Press, Hospitality and more.  On the floor there seemed to be plenty female customers and most seemed to be having a good time, though maybe they were just putting a brave face on it.  Is the ratio correct?  We certainly had plenty happy women coming to the German Bar, asking for tasters, advice and then going off smiling. Hard to say overall as it is a huge event, but it seemed reasonably healthy to me and improving year on year.  Can more be done?  Of course.  I'm sure the Organiser would welcome suggestions.  I'm guessing the entertainment might be an area for improvement too for example.

Ah beer choice.  Loads of boring samey beers and no craft keg. Well I have news for some.  Most beer in Britain is "boring and samey" and almost all of it isn't craft keg .  It is what most people like to drink and what most brewers produce, because that's what most customers want.  There was plenty of more interesting and stretching alternatives though in cask and bottle and on Foreign Beer Bars.  What you had to do is seek them out, just as you would in the wider world and at least at GBBF, within a few yards, you'd likely find them.  "Not representative" in this case tends to mean "No keg beers from my favourite hipster brewers".  That isn't the same as having no choice folks. It just isn't.  CAMRA has increased choice year upon year - I know this as I've been going for 15 years or more - and who knows, things may change further, but there is no a lack of choice and quality on the whole, is pretty good.  There really is something for almost everyone and rather than think what might be missing, with over 900 beers to choose from, a better way of looking at it would be to get on with what's on offer as there is so much to choose from. Of course, everyone scratches their head from time to time and wonders why their favourite brewery isn't represented.  I do too, but with 1200 breweries in the UK, omissions are surely inevitable?  Despite its unwieldiness, GBBF is what it is.  A huge effort by willing volunteers, to put on the best beer show they can in pursuit of the aims of the Campaign for Real Ale.  It changes and evolves and generally improves, year on year, but is still a great event for most attendees.

With the caveats above, we shouldn't forget that to most customers, the flamboyance, familiarity, friendliness and approachability of the event, the gobsmacking size and the sheer good time they have, are what really matters.

Spare and thought too for the volunteers, young and increasingly old, that give up their time and feet to put the show on.  You'd miss it and them if it wasn't there.  That day is getting closer perhaps.

62 comments:

ChrisM said...

A friend of mine, a bar manager at Durham Beer Festival, was asked by another member 'are you here because your husband organised it?' !!!!

The same question has also been asked about her attendance at branch/regional meetings...

Tandleman said...

Ah the North East. Still in the 70s. Not the only ones I suppose.

py said...

How was the range of UK brewed sour beers and saisons? As many newspapers have been promoting them as the "next big thing" for a few years now, I'm sure plenty of punters will have rocked up eager to try some.

The point of going to a festival afterall is to try something different to what is on sale down the local pub. No-one goes to the good food show to sample the bacon cobs, and I'm sure no-one goes all the way to London to the GBBF to sample the latest mid-strength brown bitter made with Goldings and Fuggles.

Chris said...

It's an epic event, don't get me wrong and by far and away the best beerfest in Britain, but I think the challenges on variety are valid. At the very least, when you look at the depth of the queue at the foreign/bottle bars versus the depth at the bars laden with golden/pales, you have to say the public voted with their feet and are after a bit more flair!

Cooking Lager said...

I love beardy festivals. There are so many these days you never have to step foot in pubs! You guys are better at killing boozers than Tesco!

Tandleman said...

Py. You are so right. What a bugger. Almost nobody turned up at all. Nobody from outside London bothered certainly. They were smart enough to know there would be no sours.

And all these brewers out there? What a load of arseholes.

Tandleman said...

Chris. Fair point, but that was more that there was many others bars and only one German/ Czech. One Yankee etc.

I do agree overall that we need to get some more innovation in, but how much is out thee to get? I don't know, but I actually agree we should try harder in that area.

py said...

Right about what? I asked a question, I did not make a statement.

Tandleman said...

Er. Yes you did. Everything after your initial sours question was a statement.

Read it again.

Mike F said...

All the North East stuck in the 70's Bit of a sweeping generalisation isn't it. Is all the north west as hip and groovy as Manchester's Northern Quarter. Considering the tone of this blog post is about not patronising or unduly pissing off a section of the community, it's a bit of a poor comment to make..... (Some parts may however be stuck in the past as you say)

Paul Bailey said...

"The point of going to a festival afterall is to try something different to what is on sale down the local pub, and I'm sure no-one goes all the way to London to the GBBF to sample the latest mid-strength brown bitter made with Goldings and Fuggles."

There are people who do this, py, believe it or not. I've heard of people spending the majority of their time at brewery bars, such as Sheps or Wells, drinking the very same mid-strength brown bitters made with Goldings and Fuggles, they could get at their locals.

Horses for courses, I suppose, but with over 900 different beers to choose from, it does make you wonder about people who are that afraid to step out of their comfort zones.

Erlangernick said...

900? Have some work to do to catch up with Nottingham, since they had nearly 1100 in 2012 -- all cask ales & ciders, no foreign muck. Suppose it'll be even more this year.

Still, I'll have to bother with the GBBF someday.

Erlangernick said...

Paul Bailey: "I've heard of people spending the majority of their time at brewery bars, such as Sheps or Wells, drinking the very same mid-strength brown bitters made with Goldings and Fuggles, they could get at their locals."

Surely, some of them were there to point and laugh at all the skinny kids flitting from bar to bar with their halves or thirds.

Perspective.

Tandleman said...

Mike F: Was kinda joking. More general point is that a few still are.

Mike F said...

I was kinda joking too. Some parts have been left stranded in the past, but some is pretty cool. Try Newcastle. It's great. List of current beer http://www.newcastle-real-ale.co.uk

Ben Viveur said...

GBBF week is the still my favourite week of the year. Until that ceases to be the case, I won't utter a word of criticism. (apart from about the CBOB categories, obviously, which is a wider issue).

Should a broader range of styles be represented? Hell, yes. But it'll take time. Probably.

Should keg be represented? Hell, no, it's a CAMRA event FFS. And I'd lose the euro-keg because it weakens their ideological position and makes them look like hypocrites.

DaveS said...

I didn't actually go, but I thought the range of new-wave crafty stuff looked pretty respectable this year, to be honest. I mean, I wouldn't expect a one off Magic Rock / Wild Beer collaboration barrel aged imperial sour, because GBBF generally feels like it's more about celebrating great regular beers than exploring bleeding-edge new stuff, but the new-wave crafty angle definitely seemed to be represented.

py said...

Its fine if CAMRA doesn't want to showcase keg, but they should really change the name of the festival to make this clear that its specifically a real ale festival and not simply a festival showcasing the best of british beer, which is what you might naively conclude from the name of the event. False advertising surely.

Can someone tell me how many saisons and sours were on display as the latest thing in beery circles? With over 900 beers there must have been a good few dozen. TM seems to be avoiding the question.

DavidS said...

Also, despite the fact that I drink plenty of it, I don't see much point in them bringing in craft keg. If anything, I'd rather they gave more room to more varied craft cask stuff, as a gentle reminder that it doesn't have to be keg to be craft...

Tandleman said...

Py. Not avoiding it at all. Answer is I have no idea.

Tandleman said...

Oops. And I agree with DavidS that we should aim to have as much style variety as possible including saisons and sours. In cask form.

Erlangernick said...

Py: "Its fine if CAMRA doesn't want to showcase keg, but they should really change the name of the festival to make this clear that its specifically a real ale festival and not simply a festival showcasing the best of british beer, which is what you might naively conclude from the name of the event. False advertising surely."

But cask beer *is* great British beer. Kind of silly to suggest that the Campaign for Real Ale shouldn't continue call their beer festival just that: the Great British Beer Festival. Should be obvious that it has to do with "real ale" as they define it.

False advertising would be to suggest there would be keg beer to lure the youngbeards in and then not have any.

I agree that the presence of foreign beer can serve to complicate the argument/discussion, but CAMRA can do whatever they want with their fest. If that means Teutonic lager is OK but English ain't, well, so be it.

Erlangernick said...

Couldn't one browse the GBBF webbie to find out how many "sours" or whatever were on? That beer selector machine or whatever it is?

Tandleman said...

Nick. Right on both counts. And if Py can be arsed, let him. It's his obsession after al.

py said...

"But cask beer *is* great British beer"

Do you mean "is a subset of" or "is equivalent to"

because the first may be true, but the second is definitely false.

Matt said...

The brewery bars don't just serve brown session bitters you can get in your local: this year, on my first trip to the GBBF, I enjoyed Fuller's ESB, Harvey's XX Mild and Belhaven Black Stout from them.

Mark said...

GBBF doesn't appear to be aimed at Scoopers or Craft Goblet-ers. Three cheers for that.

Matt said...

Hear, hear: it should - in the main at least - be abut drinking mainstream British beer in pints.

Erlangernick said...

Py: Which noun is the word "great" supposed to modify - "beer" or "festival"? If one chooses the latter, as one probably should, then your point is irrelevant. If one chooses the former, then it's a matter of opinion, whether CAMRA's selection at a given GBBF is "great" or not.

To say that cask beer is not synonymous with "great British beer" is likewise an opinion.

liam said...

Very defensive piece. I'm trying to understand why foreign brewers can sell keg and non BC beer at GBBF but British brewers can't effectively barring Camden, Meantime, Lovibonds, Redwell etc etc. Its just bonkers, surely?

I'm not sure that stating that we didn't refuse to serve women at any of the bars this year counts as a result.

Charlie Cohen said...

"Not representative" in this case tends to mean "No keg beers from my favourite hipster brewers".

When you say things like this it's really, really unhelpful and does nothing to bridge the divide that exists between CAMRA and other beer drinkers. Also, I feel a little slighted because that is NOT what I meant in my blog post.

As far as women/CAMRA go: everything is perception and opinion (fair enough, it's your blog), but I'd love to see some official figures.

Tandleman said...

liam: I really find it difficult to respond to this.

It is a fine line to walk and I did my best to walk it. You offer nothing to the debate.

PS. Being too Southerncentric helps your case not one jot.

Tandleman said...

Charlie: It may not be what you meant, but it is what you implied. If you think I'm unhelpful, you really do miss my point. Let's see. You said "I can't help but think CAMRA are cutting their nose off to spite their face when it comes to not including so many of the amazing British craft breweries we have."

As I said in my piece, there are simply too many breweries. Do you not consider those that were there "craft"?

Surely if the demand is there they should be responding to it, not telling us what we should and shouldn't want to drink? "

Demand for what?

Let's see.

"but that also celebrates our newer start ups; one that is inclusive of both young and old, male and female, single hop and triple hop."

So. Were there no such beers available? Terminology and wish lists may well have been possible to reconcile. I don't know and I'm surprised you do. Loads of strong and hoppy beers were there I think.

Telling you what to drink? You seemingly dismiss several hundred brewers as not craft enough. That's the context in my remarks.

Would exotic keg beer have satisfied you? If not, what do you mean?

Lastly, as someone entirely on the side of female drinkers and open to many ideas of change, I found what you said deeply depressing and very disappointing.

I feel slighted too.

PS: As far as I know there are no official figures of male/female split.

liam said...

Ok, West in Glasgow & Taddington in the Peak District. Plus Timothy Taylor's & Thornbridge's award winning output in bottles.

None of that can be sold, but German & American kegs & bottles are on sale. I don't see why that statement of fact is not allowed in the debate.

I simply fail to see why its ok if its foreign but not ok if its British.

By that logic, should Scotland vote for independence then Innis & Gunn & West will be welcome to show at GBBF but if its a 'No' vote then they still can't. Sounds bonkers to me.





Tandleman said...

liam:

"Very defensive piece. I'm trying to understand why foreign brewers can sell keg and non BC beer at GBBF but British brewers can't effectively barring Camden, Meantime, Lovibonds, Redwell etc etc. Its just bonkers, surely?"

There were hundreds of other breweries absent too. Don't they matter.

I'm not sure that stating that we didn't refuse to serve women at any of the bars this year counts as a result.

That is just insulting. You can apologise any time you like.

Tandleman said...

"I simply fail to see why its ok if its foreign but not ok if its British."

I'm not the organiser. Ask him.

liam said...

Where's the insult? You posted 'Thankfully I haven't heard allegations about women being denied pints or strong beer this year - or other mockings. Yet.' To which I commented that I don't think that's a result. And its not. There's nothing personal in that. The fact that its happened in recent years is profoundly depressing.

Anonymous said...

Having tried quite a few uk saisons and a couple of sours I dont think GBBF would be enhanced by this style of beer. imo. cheers johng

Ron Pattinson said...

py,

my first taste of Lambik was at a GBBF in Ally Pally in the late 1970's.

Just a few decades before the hipsters noticed sour beers.

ABrewHaHa said...

liam, there are no American Keg beers on sale at GBBF. If you can't tell the difference between a keg and a cask then you need your eyes testing. As for European kegs, they are all keg conditioned and none, I repeat NONE, are sold under CO2. CAMRA articles allow for the sale of Foreign Beers, including non bottle conditioned beers.
I won't go into the omission of many 'craft' breweries but it is difficult to see how it would be possible to satisfy the demand for all breweries to be represented. One odd thing struck me when I went to London Craft Beer Festival was the omission of so many London breweries but the inclusion of Yorkshire breweries. You just can't win can you?

Rob said...

Looking at the beer list it does seem to me that there isn't that great. Nottingham has about 3 times the number of UK cask beers and within that there is more variety too. Maybe it's because each brewery has a number of beers so they are freer to bring the more unusual ones along.

John Clarke said...

Rob - I don't think any brewer "brings beer" to either the GBBF or Nottingham Beer Festival. All of the beers are ordered by the organisers (with the possible exception of those on the dedicated brewery bars).

Rob said...

Oh right, I knew that was the case with the GBBF, thought Nottingham might be different. Either way, as Nottingham has a number of beers from some breweries there is maybe more room for the more unusual.

I think in the GBBF because they are only tending to get 1 beer per brewery we end up with a preponderance of golden ales/bitters.

HopZine Rob said...

Now now Tandy I think you are better than to expel that old “craft keg” chestnut. I’m most certainly in the camp where I prefer my beer to be a bit more boisterous than the average cask drinker but I guess I’d never seen the whole British beer thing as being “boring” and “samey” because that’s what most people drink, but you are correct weather I like it or not. For me beer is about variety and not simply sticking to “my usual”, its an adventure of flavours.

I do believe that the range of British cask doesn’t truly represent the best of the full breadth of what is British cask ale. There are some fantastic and progressive brewers putting their beer in cask.

Cask in point Ashover Brewery, Ashover produce a stunning range of beer, smoked beers, Berlinnerwiesse and big hop-forward IPAs. So which beer from the great brewery was selected for GBBF? The low abv and very disappointing session ale.

900 beers, but what’s the point in having loads on boring, insipid predictable beer? A brilliantly produced best bitter means very little next to another 25 best bitter apart from that some are marginally better than others. You need light and shade, a best bitter and an imperial stout, a golden ale and a sour. British beer is exciting and innovative and isn’t been represented by the range at GBBF.

I’m currently on the comity for my local beer festival and this is something I’m trying create. An exciting, diverse range. I’d prefer 10 amazing beers and 2000 samey boring beers.

py said...

Careful now Rob, if you start introducing interesting beer you might start attracting the wrong type of people.

Tandleman said...

I think personally, with so many breweries producing so much beer, (no matter how good it may be),that fits into mild, bitter, best bitter, strong bitter, stout and golden that CAMRA should certainly look to more interesting and experimental cask ales where they exist.
In fact, we are daft not to. They'd add variety, create interest and they would sell and explode the myth that cask is just boring.

Might do a blog post on that.

RedNev said...

Here we go again:

Campaign for Real Ale.

Clue in the name.

py said...

Better get rid of all that kegged foreign muck from the festival them. And all the cider, that's not real ale, its not even ale. and remove all support for Timothy taylors, who let us not forget brewery condition their bottles. And all the pubs in the GBG who use cask breathers, and all the breweries that do the majority of the secondary fermentation in house (so basically all of them).

Is there anyone left the campaign does support? Not really, no.

Meanwhile, despite CAMRA's best efforts to derail it, the craft revolution rumbles on.



DavidS said...

To reiterate, I think it's a massive error to equate sticking to cask only with sticking to boring brown beer only. Our local CAMRA fest (Cambridge) had a vodka barrel aged stout (from Adnams, no less), something weird with sake yeast, a few no-holds-barred double IPAs and a sea-purslane gose, among other similar sorts of thing, all on cask.

But, while I think a lot of craft moaners are lacking a bit of perspective (just because something's hot news for hardcore craft scenesters, that doesn't make it a national scale phenomenon) I do agree that GBBF tends to err on the conservative side a rather.

I wonder how much this is based on a "don't scare the horses" idea that session bitters are nice easy beers to drink and if you have people turning up to the GBBF who aren't regular ale drinkers then giving them brown bitter is a better starting point than giving them a barrel aged sour which is likely to put them off. And I also wonder how much this is a fallacy based on the fact that for a long time real ale WAS (mostly) brown bitter, and hence people didn't become long term CAMRA members if they didn't like it, hence long term CAMRA members assume that it's the default thing that everyone will like. And conversely that if you've been drinking and appreciating brown bitter (as well you might) for a few decades then anything else is going to seem weird and difficult to get you head around, while if you're coming at the whole lot with a blank slate then other styles can be just as accessible.

I've got friends who "don't like beer" who've actually quite like oude guezes and double IPAs when we've given them a taste - probably they just don't like bitter that much!

Tandleman said...

py: I am starting to despair of you. Is that the intention?

py said...

Come on now, the "it is the campaign for real ale so we can't support anything else" argument has been dismantled so many times before its like shooting fish in a barrel. Its historically illiterate and completely hypocritical.

py said...

Dave's got it.

If they're not regular ale drinkers its probably because they've tried brown bitter in the past and didn't like it. Most people have at least tried ale at some point in their life.

So offering them more of the same is clearly not going to help. Offering them something they won't have tried before is clearly the more logical option.

I guess it depends what the intention of the organisation and its festival is? Is it a campaigning organisation that tries to promote beer in general and real ale in particular to the wider public? Or, like Cookie thinks, is it a piss up club for fat old white blokes who know what they like and like what they know.

RedNev said...

PY: CAMRA decides what else can be sold in addition to cask ale at its festivals. If you want to change things, join, go to the AGM, propose a motion and see how you get on. The priorities of CAMRA are decided by its members, not by disaffected beer bloggers.

CAMRA should do precisely what its subs-paying members decide. If anyone doesn't like what it does and isn't prepared to try to change the system from within, the answer's simple: don't go to its festivals. But please stop boring the rest of us with these predictable and repetitive whinges, the likes of which I have been reading for years. If you insist on boring us, at least please change the record.

Although I am a CAMRA member, I am not an uncritical one, as quite a few posts on my own blog, including the current one, will show.

py said...

CAMRA have no idea what its members want, because they never ask us.

liam said...

The 'go to an AGM' trick is getting very stale. Reminds me of being a Labour member in the 80's.

Most of us can't do that, as you well know. Why not give us a vote on issues of contention? The reason of course is that on issues like cask breathers, refusing to list most bottled beer, banning all keg beer etc etc its likely the membership would vote 'the wrong way'

Worse it would remove power from the clique who run things.

The intolerance of dissent is bad enough, but what we have in reality is a very shouty priesthood who make sure the membership never have a direct say.

py said...

The sole purpose of the AGM is to enable the inner circle of fat old white blokes to say "so come to the AGM" anytime anyone complains. Its not actually intended to change anything, don't be so silly, hence the reason CAMRA is still stuck in 1977.

DavidS said...

I'd sort of mildly support British keg as a side-attraction at the GBBF and I do think it's a bit daft for them to showcase German keg beer as part of a wonderful artisan brewing tradition while shutting out the UK stuff because all keg beer is fizzy chemical piss that will destroy real ale as we know it.

On the other hand, I'd also strongly support choosing your fights wisely, and "give us British keg at GBBF" is pretty obviously going to be bitterly divisive, an uphill struggle, and will probably end up going nowhere, whereas "give us a bit more diverse / unusual / hipster-friendly cask beer at GBBF" could solve basically the same problem with a fraction of the handbags.

Anonymous said...

Thankfully while navels are being contemplated there are fusions where the 'hipster's' and old beardy farts can get on with tasting whatever they want (within, naturally, the breweries that are attending) shoulder to shoulder without ripping each other to shreds.

The Leeds International Beer Festival starts its third run today, with craft and keg co-existing.

And come Monday morning no-one (hopefully!) will have died.

http://www.leedsbeer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/LeedsBeerListings2014.pdf

jesusjohn said...

Great comment from DavidS. Hear, hear!

Simon said...

"Campaign for Real Ale. Clue in the name."

It's a rubbish name though, isn't it. "Real" ale my arse.

Implying that beautiful pint I had from Buxton yesterday is in some way fraudulent?

They should just be honest and call it "The We Only Drink Cask Ale Because of Some Antiquated Dogma We Dreamt Up in the Seventies Club".

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