Monday, 31 August 2015

Sneery Beery

I haven't written about the Great British Beer Festival until now and as far as I can make out not that many have either.  There are one or two moaning  exceptions which I'll mention in a moment or two, but my own thoughts first.  I want to address the complaint of "sameiness" which is a recurring theme of the knockers.  As someone who has been working at the festival for many years, you do get a feeling of familiarity and indeed cosy sameness about it when you show up and it is all there set out invitingly before you (I don't do set up - I'm far too old for that) but even so I still spend my first "let loose" half hour checking what's new and what's different.  There is always enough. It may look the same, but subtle changes are always being made.  But back to the cosy sameness.  That is to some extent the point.  You are showing up at a huge version of your local.  It has a set of features you enjoy, usually the chance of bumping into people to chat to and it has a lot of good beer.  And the beer is getting better. Huge efforts are made to cool the beer and present it well and I for one didn't have a pint at an unacceptable temperature, nor did I have a pint that was flat. So given that it is served Southern style, nothing to moan about there.

"Ah but the choice?" I hear you shout.  The GBBF has a huge choice of beer.  If you can't find enough there to keep you happy you are unlikely to be happy anywhere.  It represents what British Brewers in the main are brewing and what British pub customers in the main are drinking.  It does include in cask form, beers from many cutting edge brewers and some of them rather exotic. The number of great small brewers is slowly increasing as it is elsewhere at beer festivals.  But it isn't a showcase for strong and obscure. If you want a pineapple sour aged in feta cheese barrels coming in at 11% and £5.50 a third, well yes, you'll be disappointed.  That's not what it is what it is about.  What it is about is a jolly good day or night out, in a great friendly atmosphere where beer assumes the position it was always meant to assume. It is an accompaniment to fun. It isn't the fun itself.  Thankfully almost all of our customers see that and simply go to enjoy themselves.  Watching and observing, I saw huge numbers of people doing just that. Back to that pub analogy. Everyone came, had a good drink and a great time and went home happy. Job done!

So who's moaning this year? Well Simon Williams is. In his blog he describes it as "lazy, out-moded and tired looking."  The organisers have simply "plonked everything down in the same place" and brought in "lowest common denominator" food suppliers. How all the 50,000 plus that attended must have been disappointed. Except of course they weren't, as 99% of these people drink and enjoy themselves just like 99% of the population do and the GBBF suits them just fine. Like pubs CAMRA has to cater for the majority of drinkers. Simon's somewhat sneering tone continues throughout, though I do agree with his observation that CAMRA needs to make its hall decoration and festival theme somewhat more contemporary, so at least he made one valid observation to justify his press pass.  Looking at the comments on his blog (mine didn't appear) read what Des De Moor says for a more thoughtful and considered appreciation of the the issue of beer choice and the festival itself -and Des isn't that complimentary to CAMRA. (Funnily enough Des liked the theme, which shows how difficult all this is!)

Jumping on the same CAMRA bashing bandwagon is another press pass holder, Martyn Cornell who agrees with everything Simon says. In fact, so overcome by agreement is Martyn that he says somewhat astonishingly "I don’t think I’ve ever read a blogpost I agreed with more than Simon Williams of CAMRGB’s take on the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia last week". Perhaps Martyn doesn't agree with that much he reads then, but it's still some claim. He like Simon goes on to compare GBBF with London Beer City Beer Festival (apples and oranges if ever there was).  He says "At the LCBF, in contrast, the beers are almost without exception challenging and exciting, the stalls are staffed by people from the breweries involved who are delighted to chat."  This is a hugely geeky thing to say. Now here's a thing. I'd say most people don't go out drinking to be challenged by beer, or have a wish to discuss the beer's philosophy and upbringing with the brewer. They go out to enjoy beer as part of a social occasion and just want a bloody beer, maybe with a taster or two first.  Comparing the two festivals in this way, as like for like,  is disingenuous. I could go on but you get my drift.  While I can accept Des's well thought out and constructive criticism, this sort of lazy stereoptyping, as fellow blogger, Jeff Pickthall would say, "Boils my piss." However the most telling remark of  all to my mind was buried within the comments in Martyn's blog. It was this:

Karen Eliot on said:

"But doesn’t this take it for granted that the purpose of a beer festival is to present people with a challenge? The GBBF is deservedly popular as a jolly day out, the beer needs to be good but it doesn’t have to be ‘interesting’.The CAMRA / Craft divide seems to be less about method of dispense these days as ways of drinking, with one mode – characterised by small measures, high ABV, high prices, an unusual attentiveness on the part of the drinker and an emphasis of novelty over consistency and intensity over drinkability - assumed by its proponents to be superior."

Doesn't that make sense? There's the craft / cask divide summed up nicely.  Jolly days out versus challenging novelty. I'll add that to my own observation that beer should be an accompaniment to fun, not the point of the day out. Let's just enjoy a beer festival for what it is, not what it isn't.  

There's a certain irony too that the sneerers found the best bit of GBBF bumping into people they knew, while the best bit of LCBF was being challenged by the beer.

My comment didn't appear on Martyn's blog either. No conspiracy theory. just the dreaded Wordpress I assume.

And Simon. The two worlds aren't meant to collide. They should be taken for what they are, not forced into a daft comparison.  People that think GBBF hasn't changed have obviously not been going as long as I have. As for the more comtemporary festivals, they tend to do much the same a CAMRA. They take a formula that suits them and then tweak it. Babies and bathwater! 

Also many beer geeks and writers were there at GBBF. I spoke to them. Don't remember many glum faces.   Nor was the food at all bad with a choice and variety outweighing anything you'll usually get at "alternative" beer festivals and eminently suitable for those drinking a fair amount of beer.  I even heard tell that pulled pork was available!!


Tyson said...

You tell 'em, old boy. Like the title but perhaps "Sneery beer from the freeloaders" might have been more accurate.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

You're bang on the money when you write that the two festivals represent the whole real ale/craft beer divide.
Sinking a few convivial pints of a type of beer you're familiar with strikes me as an infinitely more entertaining way of passing a few hours than being challenged by ever more esoteric attempts to reinvent the beer wheel.
The last of the five times I've been to GBBF I took the missus who,after a good session,thought I was completely bonkers for leaving the hall to head off to a pub I'd heard about called The Gunmakers.
" You want to drink even MORE beer? "

Unknown said...

Sadly I couldn't make GBBF this year but have attended many previous years, usually with my brother and Dad, and have always had a great day.

The only point I might agree with of those criticising is the way the stands are organised; by counties, in alphabetical order. Cheshire, Cornwall and Cumbrian beers all together on one stand. Never understood the logic of that.

Neville Grundy said...

What a load of pathetic whingers! If you don't like it, don't go.

py said...

What is the GBBF for? Is it to showcase the best, the newest and the most exciting developments in British beer, or is it to make as much money as possible for CAMRA by flogging as much golden ale to as many punters as possible?

Answer that, and you will see whether or not the criticisms are justified?

Tandleman said...

Answer: It isn't to showcase the newest and most exciting (we'd need to define exciting) developments.

It is (in the main) to showcase and reflect back to the public, the widest range of beers that are generally on sale in cask conditioned form in the UK and yes, to make money to campaign for real ale.

Stonch said...

All these johnny-come-lately freeloaders. Pete Brown was going to the GBBF trade day and slagging it off ten years ago. He's grown up a bit (in his attitude to CAMRA, if not other things) and it's to be hoped some of these folks will too.

Mind you Martyn Cornell's about 86 so I think he might be stuck in his ways.

LiamTheBrewer said...

I read both pieces and didn't see any personal attacks or invective in them. Then I read this piece and the comments section. Words like whiners, moaners, freeloaders and the inevitable 'if you don't like it why don't you ....' comment.

Its rather strange to accuse Martin Cornell of jumping on a bandwagon, what bandwagon? - a single blog post.

CAMRA doesn't respond well to criticism, whether the critic is right or wrong.

There was no sneering in either post and its very sad that the stock response to anyone who suggests improvements or has a different point of view is to circle the bandwagons and have a go.

Tandleman said...

I fear you are missing the point Liam. The issue is that while criticism of CAMRA is well and good, it is far better if it is constructive. In fact, I gave an example of just such a thing.

Martyn and Simon took a negative and non-constructive view of GBBF and I call them out on it. I believe GBBF and LCBF aren't the same kind of event and if you feel like knocking GBBF on that basis, prepare to be knocked yourself. I suppose if you want GBBF to be as Martyn wants it, we'll always disagree.

Incidentally on this blog, my readers, you included are free to say what you want.

Neville Grundy said...

Liam: this isn't an official CAMRA blog, so nothing here represents the Campaign's response to criticism. It contains the views of individuals, some of whom, but not all, are CAMRA members. Ordinary members are not spokespeople for the Campaign, especially as some actually make pronouncements contrary to Campaign policies (not a problem unique to CAMRA). But by all means don't let that fact inhibit your desire to slag off CAMRA.

I've read the posts too, and I don't agree with your assessment of their tone, but that is a matter of opinion, not fact. We'll just have to agree to disagree about that.

I really don't see the point of going to a beer festival if you know you won't like it. As a CAMRA member, I choose not to go to the GBBG because I don't want to - why don't they make the same decision? You cannot suggest that these experienced beer writers had no idea what awaited them at the GBBF.

I don't know whether you've come across some of the vituperation heaped upon CAMRA and real ale in recent years by those who favour craft beer, but it's often been a darn sight worse than anything written here. With that in mind, is it entirely surprising if those of whose favourite form of beer is real ale reply firmly to criticisms from those who have a different perspective?

You write sniffily about circling the bandwagons; I'd describe it as responding to criticism. Or are you suggesting we real ale types should just take it without a right of reply?

CrayolaSarandon said...

Disagreeing on stuff often see,s to be what you and I do best, and I'm certainly not going to enter into an online argument on personal views.
But I do want to make one small point which is that I was given a press pass to write about the event but that doesn't mean that I have to write something positive.
Nor does it make me a freeloader if I write something negative.
That's how writing/reviewing/journalism works.
Whether or not you and I agree on everything or nothing, we are entitled to our own opinions and those opinions are not paid for by the people that give us press passes and free access to events and products that we write about.

Tandleman said...

I didn't mention anything about freeloaders. I merely stated you and Martyn were press pass holders.

Stono said...

presumably if the people with the free press passes hate attending so much, no doubt theyll politely refuse if they are offered them again next year :)

I dont think it makes sense actually to review a trade session anyway as being representative of the whole event, since the session is made up of guests of the big breweries,brewers of all shapes and sizes,pub trade,landlords & pub staff, invited press and people who write internet blogs who all apparently know each other anyway, its a totally different crowd that pays to attend for the remainder of the festival.

So its never going to be the same craic shall we say as being there at 9pm on a Friday night watching the Neville Staple band on stage, with a room full of people very happily dancing the night away & having alot of fun by the looks of it.

Ive been going for 10 years now, its changed in that time IMO,even after moving back from Earls Court, Olympia has changed around with bars moving about all the time, we had bars upstairs and that gigantic staircase a few years back, now the bars are all downstairs, its not even that the big brewery bars are the same every year, no Greene King bar this year for instance, so no 5x :( the theme is different every year, the beers on the bar get organised differently, to the point if you are a regular annual attendee too much change can become quite confusingly annoying.

but the layout seems to work as there werent areas that struggled with too many people converging on one point at once, even the CBOB queue this year seemed well managed and less fraught than recently, it all seems to be balanced out quite well.

and food, well we must have ate well as for once we didnt buy the jumbo packets of Pipers crisps on special offer to nibble on as extras, but there looked to be a good selection of anything you might have wanted to eat at a beer festival.

my dates for next year are already pencilled in the diary :)

Martyn Cornell said...

I find it fascinating, Peter, that you have to defend the GBBF by saying that it’s not about beer at all, and the beer is merely “the accompaniment to fun”. Foolishly, what with it being called a BEER festival, I had rather thought that it was about, well, beer – like, you know, a music festival is about music and an art festival about art. “A jolly good day or night out, in a great friendly atmosphere where beer … is an accompaniment to fun” is an excellent description of going down the pub, and indeed exactly what going down the pub ought to be. But going to a beer festival should not, in fact, be the same as going to some giant pub, it should be about exploring what beer has to offer, just as music festivals and art festivals let one explore what music and art have to offer.

One of the problems of GBBF is that it has never been able to decide if it is actually Oktoberfest, which is indeed “a jolly good day or night out, in a great friendly atmosphere where beer … is an accompaniment to fun”, or whether it is a celebration of everything cask beer can be, with an emphasis on excellence and choice, rather than hedonism and conviviality. Conviviality is a vital part of the sum total of beer drinking experiences, but you won’t find much opportunity for conviviality in a vast and noisy cavern like Olympia. If you want ““A jolly good day or night out, in a great friendly atmosphere where beer … is an accompaniment to fun”, go to the pub. Unfortunately, there’s very little fun at GBBF, it’s too big, too noisy, too hot, too full, the chances of finding the best beer are too low, and the chance to explore beer is pretty limited as well.

“Beer should be an accompaniment to fun, not the point of the day out” - the point is that beer has the capability to be both, which is the wonderful thing about the drink. You can go down the pub and have fun accompanied by beer, or you can go to a beer festival and explore the wider reaches of the drink, experiencing beer in a way that it’s not possible to do in a pub environment.

“the sneerers found the best bit of GBBF bumping into people they knew” - that’s about the ONLY bit I enjoyed at the GBBF, which is why I mentioned it. I also met a fair few people I knew at the LCBF, but I didn’t have to mention that, as I also enjoyed the beers, and the whole experience, much more.

“The GBBF has a huge choice of beer” - if you mean “beer from lots of different breweries” - yes. If you mean “lots of different sorts of beer” - no. And in any case, it’s nonsense to boast of more than 900 beers and ciders when nobody is going to be able to tackle more than 2% of them in a day, and working out which are the ones worth drinking is a complete lottery.

I’m not sure why people feel the fact that I get a free ticket to the trade day ought to rule me out from criticising the event: (1) I paid for my own beer and (2) you don’t pay to read my blog, but that certainly doesn’t stop you criticising it if you want – oh, and (3) every music, book, theatre and film critic in the world gets free tickets and free products - are they not, therefore, allowed to be rude about things to which they are invited? Jeez, if I constantly praised every free beer I was sent, there would certainly be complaints. Now, apparently, I’m not allowed to say harsh words either.

What I find most fascinating about this debate, though, is that it seems to split people decisively, with what appear to be “old-school Camra-ites” on one side, who won’t hear a word of criticism against GBBF, and who get extremely defensive - and positively precious - when the event is attacked, and what appears to be a rather younger crew who find it dull and uninvigorating. Personally I went to my first GBBF some 37 years ago, it hasn’t fundamentally changed in all that time, and while some people appear to be happy with that, I’m on the side of those who aren’t.

Finally, Peter, I’m sorry your comments keep not appearing on my blog - no conspiracy, honest. Try signing up as a follower …

Stanley Blenkinsop said...

In the years when I used a press pass to attend GBBR I was also given a few vouchers for some complimentary pints.
I wonder if some of those naysayers received the same or were they only here for the sneer ?

py said...

Clearly there are two camps here, with different understandings of the fundamental point of a beer festival.

There are those who think a beer festival should be like the Festival of Britain, but for beer, giving punters the opportunity to try new and exciting developments they wouldn't normally see in the Dog and Duck, and those who don't really care about the beer as long as there is lots of it and just think it should be a massive piss-up.

Perhaps the name should be changed to make it clear that it is the latter. "The Great British Real Ale Piss-up". Then people looking for more of an expo-type event wouldn't be disappointed.

On a lighter note, I'd love to see a technology festival follow the GBBF model. People would flock for miles to sample the delights of microwaves and dvd players.

Bailey said...

Interesting response from Martyn above with lots of points I'd agree with.

I certainly raised an eyebrow at the conversation about GBBF 'whingers' on Twitter. We're repeatedly told to speak as we find, get off the fence, etc., except, apparently, in re: CAMRA where the rule seems to be 'If you haven't got anything nice to say....'

John West said...

I tend to side with Martyn on this particular debate - but then, given GBBF has always been like that in the 10 or so years I've gone to them, that's why I don't go. I don't like it. It's not for me.

Given the self-selecting nature of volunteerism (largely those with the time to do it - overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, those heading towards or in retirement), I think there is a limit to what appetite there is to refresh the offer. Fair enough - the volunteers put the time in.

With the caveat that I don't think any criticism is constructive *in the strict sense that I see no prospect of it being taken on board*, I nevertheless believe the festival would be a better campaigning tool if it were more (gulp) curated: here are the 150 best beers in Britain in indisputably control condition. And we've got stacks of them.

Tandleman said...

Bailey: Ha. Everyone has their say on this blog and those named (Martyn and Simon) an automatic right of reply. It's not confined to comments. If they want a single piece to put the record straight from their point of view, all they have to do is ask. If they do, they can say what they like including what they think of me. No-one is slagged off by me for disagreeing with my disagreement even if I disagree. :-)

In fact I do agree with odd bits of Martyn's stuff, so as I said in my blog, it's all rather difficult when you can see where people are coming from. I agree I shouldn't have mentioned press passes. Unnecessary and wrong, so hands up on that one.

As for slagging off CAMRA? I encourage it, as it gives me a chance to write about it.

John West said...

In case someone pulls me up on:

given GBBF has always been like that in the 10 or so years I've gone to them, that's why I don't go.

<< I first went in 2006 (IIRC) and my last was 2013.

Tandleman said...

JJ: "I nevertheless believe the festival would be a better campaigning tool if it were more (gulp) curated: here are the 150 best beers in Britain in indisputably control condition. And we've got stacks of them."

There's unlikely to be agreement on what these beers are and would that attract the numbers to make it a viable thing? Doubtful surely.

John West said...

I think a major trend in the coming years for food, drink, TV, politics, ideas will be how to navigate bewildering choice - in essence, a revival of tools (many will be apps, or tasting sessions) that allow you to select the best products for your tastes and pocket.

In short, a revival of connoisseurship - denuded (I hope) of elitist overtones.

To that end, I think GBBF could be a useful campaigning tool in that regard helping people (albeit in a convivial and none-too-didactic setting) to find what they like in a country now with 1,500 breweries.

The tight, prize-winning and varied selection at the SIBA bar was always my go-to at GBBF.

Exactly how you frame that, I dunno. I might need to think about it a bit more than in between work emails (!), but that's my take on the direction of travel I'd chart.

But like I say, there seem to be plenty of bums on seats and no desire to change. Fine - I just won't go. Suspect I will not be missed!

Unknown said...

The Membership, Information and CAMRA Festival T shirts operation was moved into the National Hall. One of the stands I help run took its place in the Grand. A good spot, especially if you like to spend a lot of your time answering questions such as "Can I join CAMRA here?", "Can I buy Fest T shirts here?" - "you could do all that here last year". Ho hum. And one person did say to us, oh you mean there's another hall?

DaveS said...

I haven't written a sneery blog post or anything, but I do agree with Martyn's comment on here: I love a good night out drinking nice straightforward beer with good friends in a pleasant environment, but I can do that in plenty of pubs that don't charge me an admittance fee or require a train journey to get to! GBBF has never really seemed to have offer enough added value over just going to a decent pub to be worth it. Something like B^3 or IndyMan offers something different and interesting that I'm a lot more likely to pay to go to.

Also, if they want to showcase the sort of normal beer that normal folk drink on a normal night out in a normal pub, why aren't the international bars all Heineken, Stella and Budweiser? Or at least proper well made lagers and wits? It does seem particularly sad to have a celebration of British cask ale that basically tells people that if they want anything interesting or unusual they're better off sticking with American or European stuff!

DaveS said...

By the way, I don't necessarily think that GBBF should become a cask-only IndyMan, just that this is an angle that CAMRA should really be doing more to promote. It always seems crazy that CAMRA have a continual vague worry about making cask ale seem young and hip and exciting (or at least, not exclusively old, sad and boring) at the same time as worrying about "craft keg" at the same time as more-or-less ignoring the fact that so many of the young, hip, exciting craft brewers are producing cask ale!

Sorry, I'm short on constructive suggestions, here. Would it make sense to have an "outer limits" type bar with a couple of dozen British cask ales that really would showcase how much it's possible to do with cask ale, get people like Martyn or Simon excited, and probably be of interest to less knowledgeable but generally curious drinkers as well? Or a smaller, separate "craft cask" festival with trendy street food vans and DJs?

Tandleman said...

It is tricky. I'm not against change at all but my point was about incorrect comparisons, not change. In fact as Deputy Organiser of one the the biggest CAMRA Fests in the country, I'm at the forefront of pushing change. Watch out this year for a keykeg bar (selling keykeg conditioned (not force carbonated) ale and more imaginative beer choice, more meet the brewer and beer writer events for example, but it isn't that simple. You can't run beer festivals for the few but for the many.

Our Beer Orderer, like the GBBF's I'm sure does try and attract cutting edge breweries and we do. The point about them being hard to find is spurious. Look at the programme and off you go.

I'm not sure either that bringing in a van to sell pulled pork is better than the stalls selling pulled pork that are already there. As I've said before, it isn't that simple and other festivals can fill the gaps.

John Clarke said...

I think part of the problem is with the demographic that your average beer festival is likely to attract. (Relatively expensive) ticket only events like IndyMan and LCBF will largely be attended by those with a keener interest in cutting edge beers than "turn up on the day" and (relatively cheaper) CAMRA events. So, you try and cater for what you know your audience is likely to be.

I'm involved in running a beer festival in Stockport and our festival is a social event in the town's calendar. So we get your average pub-goer coming down for the night and you have to offer them beers they want to drink. At the same time we also try and cater for those with more experimental tastes. While we haven't gone down the keykeg route yet I do try and get cask versions of beers that are ordinarily keg only to add variety.

While I order some cask I also run a bottled beer bar (both UK and overseas) and this year our range ran from a few mainstream best bitters to the likes of Crooked Stave's Nightmare on Brett. We sold out so I'm guessing we got the mix about right.

You have to strike a balance and that's not always easily done.

Rob Nicholson said...

Tand: one point I will (re-)raise here is that of seating at the new central Manchester venue. Make sure there is enough of it. IMO it is the ability to sit down that significantly changes the feel of a festival. Bollington: smaller but plenty of seating = more convivial festival. Macclesfield: bigger with lack of seating (none actually on the evening sessions) = more party like atmosphere with more jostling and less convivial atmosphere. I'm sure there is a compromise somewhere. It was the first point that popped up when the new venue was announced.

John Clarke said...

Rob - even with only half of G-Mex (as was) it's still a huge space so I'm sure there will be plenty of seating. Whether there will be "enough" that's a moot point. Unless you have a 5000 seat football stand available like we do at Stockport I guess there will never be "enough"

DaveS said...

A lot of CAMRA fests are much better IMHO - my local is Cambridge, which tends to have a really good mix of stuff. Manchester sounds really good too. I'm not generally a CAMRA basher.

On the other hand, saying that "other beer festivals can fill the gaps" is missing the point - to a large extent, CAMRA are seen as representing cask ale and the GBBF is seen as their big flagship showcase for cask ale - look at the media attention it gets relative to any other beer fest - so if people go to GBBF and have to dig in the programme to find anything other than undemanding brown-to-golden ales then their take home message is going to be that that's what cask ale is all about. And if someone like Brewdog can build a brand on the idea that to get anything other than undemanding brown-to-golden ales you need to forget boring old real ale and get with the keg in one of their awesome bars then maybe CAMRA need to wonder why people were so ready to buy into it...

DaveS said...

And to re-iterate, I don't think that GBBF needs wall-to-wall crafty madness, just that the current diversity of British cask ale needs to be a more visible part of it.

Rob Nicholson said...

Rather ironic is it not that the heading on What's Brewing this month is "More choice than even at fest" ;-)

Jeff Pickthall said...

This is what is wrong with the GBBF, and I will never tire of saying it.

Rob Nicholson said...

I don't think anyone is suggesting wall-to-wall crafty madness but some of the ideas are worth investigating. Such as much higher engagement of the brewers at the festival. The idea of reducing choice infers to me "higher quality" which is a tricky one. Maybe an aim to make GBBF somewhere where breweries put on their unusual & special beers. Maybe launch a beer like the very successful "New beers" bar at Stockport. There are positives to be inferred from there if one is a mind set to explore them.

John Clarke said...

Jeff - couldn't agree more about that bloody t-shirt stall. Why they have it back year after year I really don't know. It's been at the Manchester event in recent years as well (and willfully ignored instructions about not selling sexist t-shirts) - be nice to think it'll get the chop for 2016.

DaveS said...

To put it another way, doesn't it seem a bit sad that at an event which is (presumably) meant to celebrate and promote British cask ale, it's a running joke that you can find all the beer writers hanging around the foreign beer bars?

Tandleman said...

Do any of them drink cask by preference? One doesn't know really.

py said...

I do, generally, drink cask, but surely the opportunity to try something you don't get every other week of the year in your local pub vs a load of stuff you do, is just overwhelmingly tempting?

I guess its just a bit of an issue that the majority of new and exciting developments in British brewing tend to work better in keg.

DaveS said...

I don't know either. But even if they don't then you imagine they might be more swayed if the selection did something other than confirm their prejudices.

To put it another other way, I can see the point about GBBF being at least partly a celebration of the great ordinary British pint and for making nice cask beers central to a fun social event. But given that they can square that with having foreign beer bars stacked high with rare, obscure, strong, exotic stuff, from double IPAs to lambics, from rauchbiers to sour imperial stouts, showcasing the incredible diversity of foreign (mostly) bottled beer, why not do the same for the stuff that they're actually meant to be campaigning for, ie British real ales? It just seems totally illogical.

Tandleman said...

Well, not that I want to get too involved in this side track, but which breweries and beers were missing that you'd like to see?

Rob Nicholson said...

*smile* - that's akin to the pointy haired boss asking Dilbert to tell him all of the unforeseen problems at the start of the project

John West said...

To be honest, I see the choice thing from a geek's point of view.

For example, I think 2012 or 2013 the only Thornbridge beer was Wild Swan. And you think - a) this is widely available in pubco pubs; b) I can pick it up in Waitrose; c) it's not the most interesting of their core range; d) could GBBF not have got one of the UK's most respected brewers to do something a little special for the flagship festival of the year?

And that's before the "ooh, they've got XXX" - then of course, it's not on (which is absolutely fair enough, but not all of the beers are on at once). Plus the anecdotal thing of all the interesting beer being frontloaded, so if you go Thurs/Fri it's less good.

But I think that's where a lot of the crit comes from in beery circles - because the moment you take an interest in beer and are used to *decent* pubco rollouts of cask, the vast majority of the selection is either stuff you've tried or have a reasonable expectation of trying soon.

So you go to BSF and hunt out five or six really interesting casks, look around and go - 95% of this is irrelevant *to me*. And because that's the case, they then look at the food (and Tandleman, no disrespect, but the food offer does need an injection of hipsters - they're just good at this shit) and the sexist t-shirts and the xenophobic t-shirts and think - pfft.

The difference *I* have with them is that I've written GBBF off as something that doesn't interest me. Takes all sorts, right?

(Not that this has stopped me from having a view about how it might square the circle and please all - I just see no appetite to do that, given these criticisms come up every year and nothing much changes.)

Curmudgeon said...

And is constant innovation really so important in beer anyway? Py compares a beer festival to a technology show, but the point about technology is that it can become objectively better through innovation. Innovative beers may be excellent, but at the end of the day they are still only different, not better than the ones that went before.

Most people don't want to upgrade their iBeer every 18 months.

Tandleman said...


Agree about Thornbridge and indeed others. We do need to try and get interesting beers within a brewery's range. I don't know why we don't actually.

And I'd be happy to give the hipsters a go. Again I don't know if they bid. You'll have more experience of that, what with rejecting all these tins!

Agree entirely about the sexist T Shirts. I have tried to do something about that elsewhere with some success.

I think things do change, but not nearly as quickly as they should. But I again return to the fact that it isn't just a festival for geeks.

John West said...

"And is constant innovation really so important in beer anyway?"

Of course not - I never said that, either. But *I* don't need GBBF to reassure me that Harvey's Best is my favourite cask ale, nor that the London Pride is drinking well.

Now I do think both should be represented, if the aim (as it should be) is to have more of a mass audience.

But *as a beer geek*, I don't see much point going. Some people might think it a "bit of fun" to be in a big hall with their mates - to be honest, none of it is aesthetically geared to my generation, the food is poor (sorry, but I really think it is - aside from the hog baps - those are good) and the unreconstructed stalls all shout "UNDER 40? NO THANKS!"

But as I've repeatedly said - fine. Have at it. I just won't go. No-one will die as a result.

But the arguments I'm making are where this crit comes from every year. The structural problem from a PR perspective is that the majority of people likely to give detailed write-ups are precisely the people likeliest to find the event a damp squib.

John West said...

Tand - I'd add the fest you're organising sounds grand, btw. Maintaining the core selection, while having a bit of keykeg theatre and meet the brewer stuff is exactly the kind of bone-throwing that can keep everyone happy.

Tandleman said...

We try hard at MBCF as I do see the need for change. I also like to put into practice much of what I preach. GBBF is a successful problem though.

Phil said...

The last two CAMRA-associated festivals I've been to as a punter, in Manchester and Stockport, were both magnificent - a huge range of beers, with bitters & golden ales balanced by milds, porters, stouts & assorted weirdies*, and no problem finding anything from a 10% barleywine to a sour cherry stout - anything your ticker's heart might desire, basically. It can quite definitely be done. So congratulations to, er, Tandleman and John C, respectively.

Does the GBBF need shaking up? Don't know, never been. But if it does, the models to emuate are there (or rather, they're up here). Surely a fest like Manchester's would win over even the harshest critic... Or maybe not.

*Consulting my copious notes, I had twelve beers at each of these - so 24 in all, of which nine were bitter/golden ale/PA/IPA.

Curmudgeon said...

It would be interesting to compare the proportion of bitters and pale/golden ales at GBBF to those at Stockport and Manchester.

I have no idea of the answer. If they're fairly similar, then either people aren't looking hard enough at GBBF, or it could do more to promote other beer styles.

If there is a big difference, then the GBBF organisers may need to have a bit of a think. Isn't there a rule at GBBF of only one beer per brewery, which perhaps militates against a broader range?

Having said that, it always seems to be the dark beers that are left at the end at Stockport. You can lead a beer drinker to a festival, but you can't make him drink what he doesn't want to.

And personally I was very pleased to see Wadworths 6X making an appearance at Stockport ;-)

Nick Boley said...

A really good and wide range of comments and points from all sides, but one thing I must ask is: does any of this ever get seen by the Festival Organiser - he is the one that comments and suggestions should be aimed at as if he doesn't know what some folk are thinking he cannot take it on board - or give reasoned rationale why he can't/won't. Just saying.

DaveS said...

Re what's missing - I don't really want to make this about my taste versus whatever, but to pick a bunch at random it's kind of noticeable that there's nothing from Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Weird Beard, Moor, Beavertown, Wild Beer Co, Mallinsons, or Anspach and Hobday and rather conservative picks from Oakham, Thornbridge and Buxton. There's also potentially room for some of the more unusual stuff from more traditional brewers - the Fullers historic beers, for instance, or Adnams' Tally Ho. (Good to see Prince of Denmark, though...)

As I say, I don't think that that sort of beer should dominate the festival, and there is some interesting stuff in there (notwithstanding that a really good best bitter is "interesting" anyway), but having something comparable to the US cask bar with a nerd-baiting range of unusual beers, beer-geek favourites, festival specials, not-normally-in-cask things and so on would do a great deal to improve the image of GBBF, of CAMRA and (most importantly) of real ale as a whole with crafty geeky types like me, Simon, Martyn etc.

Again, the thing that makes this annoying is that they're basically already doing this for US brewers - I mean, they had Hoptimum and Ruination on cask FFS - so it seems daft and self-defeating to studiously ignore similar things from British breweries.

py said...

I'm not particularly geeky, it just seems daft to go 100 miles to drink the exact same beers that I can get in my local pub.

What is the point of a festival that offers that?

DaveS said...

Another disclaimer - obviously GBBF is massively popular and very successful in many respects and will probably continue to be regardless of whether they start putting on barrel aged imperial sours from UK breweries as well as international ones.

On the other hand, it does seem like CAMRA are missing an easy opportunity to have some of these young trendy "craft beer" people inside the tent pissing out rather than vice versa.

Gary Gillman said...

It's interesting reading all this, and as usual I find myself sympathetic with Tandleman. (No I haven't been to GBBF but I've been to a number of regional CAMRA events including the Pig's Ear one and it sounds like not much has changed).

It's interesting reading about the need for change, innovation, design appeal for younger people, etc. Until recently, the beer mantra was mostly opposite: pubs with wood boards are good, no fruit machines jangling in corner, no music. Simple food so it doesn't get in the way of the beer. Hand pulled beer, no fizzy tasteless keg (of the old style) or watery lager. Save the historic pub, never mind re-development. It was obstinacy of this sort that helped save English beer and, ironically, indirectly was responsible for the American revival now nipping at Albion's heels. But now what was stubborn and held to its knitting in a way from which we all have benefitted is seen by many as needing change.

All power to rival groups and rival festivals. Let the consumer decide what to patronize, what to drink. I think many behind the CAMRA concept as it is today are betting that a decades-long movement to protect a historic dispense and taste range of beers has longevity. We will see who's right but the answer for those who want something different is to support the alternate organizations and festivals which promote something different.

All this said, I think the modern keg beer should be included at CAMRA events. Whether it becomes the main focus later will be a question for the membership. I'd hope that cask ales always remain the heart and soul of the organization and that English-tasting bitter and other traditional styles do too, due to their gastronomic merits acknowledged over hundreds of years. Don't throw out baby with the bathwater...


Phil said...

Never had bathwater yet, but the single-hop Mosaic pale ale I had the other night had a definite soapy edge to it. File under "not actually unpleasant". Odd, though - when I mentioned it to another drinker he thought I was complaining about the lines.