Tyson has mentioned the Bury Beer Festival and Darren Turpin here. This used to be run by CAMRA for many years - in fact I've organised it more than once - but is now run by the hall owners themselves, on a different basis. CAMRA did run a small membership stall this year though and I did my bit on Friday afternoon, by spending a few hours there with my "Ask me about CAMRA" badge on. Quite a few did and one of the questions I was asked more than once, was "Why isn't CAMRA doing it now?"
There is no one answer, though lack of willing local volunteers was a pretty big factor, but my personal feeling is that for us, the event had run its course. We had done ourselves proud over the years and could now bow out, especially as the hall owners had their own thoughts about how the festival could develop and change. Also, clearly, one of the biggest expenses is the hall hire and that is something owners don't have to pay for and through letting out concessions to sell beer, they don't have to worry about the cost of buying it, or staffing the stalls, to nearly the same extent. In short, they have many advantages and have an ability to run things slightly differently to appeal to a different audience - in this case combining it with frequent live musical acts, but it could be anything.
When we started doing the Bury Beer Festival umpteen years ago (well over 20), beer festivals were the sole domain of CAMRA. Now others do it and Bury has quite a few. We blazed the trail and now many others are copying it, adapting it and taking the strain, as well as promoting cask ale to others. Is this a bad thing? No, it isn't. We in CAMRA campaign for real ale and if our campaigning has inspired others take the baton up and promote the same kind of beers we do, in their own particular way, at their risk, then surely that's no bad thing?
One thing though. Most of these festivals have a commercial element to them (as CAMRA's) festivals do.) Many support worthy causes and some, like Bury are run purely for profit, (though keeping the Met Arts Centre going could certainly be described as worthy). Beer festivals aren't the intellectual property of CAMRA, but often we are asked for advice and kit to help run beer festivals and we do give general advice and guidance, based on national policy. When we are asked for kit, we hire it. It takes effort to get the stuff from store and to clean it afterwards and CAMRA and its branches do still need campaigning money.
Beer is increasingly expensive to buy, and venues, in these difficult times are expensive to hire. Beer festivals can be a risky business when money is tight and you have to charge a fair old whack just to cover hall rental. When you have a town like Bury, with a healthy real ale scene, that can be a big ask of customers, who can get great choice at no entry cost in the local pubs. In short, the figures just don't stack up sometimes, so don't be too surprised if the odd, small, local beer festival is no longer run by CAMRA. I must say, I enjoyed my few hours at Bury, not having to worry about staff and whether we were going to sell enough beer to pay for it all.
At the other end of the scale though, larger festivals on a well established basis, like GBBF, National Winter Ales, Peterborough and the like in big cities, will continue to be CAMRA run, as indeed will very many small festivals. But there is a place for a different approach in certain circumstances and where it happens, there shouldn't be too many concerns about that*.
* You will no doubt understand that I am stating a personal point of view here.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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