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.
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. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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