Why I'm Over Beer Festivals

When your body clock is fucked and you're laying awake at 5am, your brain goes into overdrive. You start to ponder the questions, trials and hardships life throws at you; that big project you've got on, and whether you'll pass your appraisal at work, but then when you finally accept that you can't tackle any of those issues right now you start thinking about trivial shit.

Like Beer Festivals.

In February, I went to two conversely different beer festivals in two countries. The National Winter Ales Festival in Norwich, England; and Braukunst Live in Munich, Germany; and both experiences led me to the conclusion that I am over beer festivals. I'm not saying either were particularly bad festivals (hey remember London's Brewing from 2013?) but I'm just over them and here is why:

You have your two main kinds of festival Local/Regional CAMRA festival & Craft Beer Festival so let's start with the former.

CAMRA Festival (Norwich Beer Fest/NWAF):

Back when I was 18, the Norwich pub scene was pretty much dead. Don't get me wrong, we had plenty of pubs - indeed possibly more than we do now due to closures - but we didn't have much variety in those pubs. Pubs just generally didn't seem to have access to much other than the normal local breweries, large regionals and occasionally something like Dark Star (other than maybe the Fat Cat), so a beer festival was exciting. A beer festival managed to get lesser known beers from what were then known as microbreweries* and trying all of these new beers was incredible.

The thing is, now in Norwich we have SO MUCH CHOICE with the likes of The Plasterers, Brewdog & The Reindeer (the list could go on) who each do their own thing incredibly well by getting in wonderful beers, from independent craft breweries through a network of great independent wholesalers like Jolly Good Beer. You've also got the choice of going to shops like Harper Wells, or ordering from Beers of Europe to buy bottles and cans to drink in the comfort of your own home.

To get the choice that you had at beer festivals back in 2007 you no longer have to elbow your way through an overcrowded church hall**, just to get to the bar and find out there's nothing you want to drink right in front of you. You can sit in a pub and hear your friends; you can have a decent beer at home with your dinner; there's just so much choice available that the beer festival has become obsolete.

Modern Craft Festival (Braukunst Live):

Now there are essentially three types of Modern Craft Beer Festivals; The pay for entry and drink unlimited thimble fulls of anything you want (London Craft Beer Festival; Copenhagen Beer Celebration); the ones that are similar to CAMRA ones where you can actually buy a full glass of beer (Craft Beer Rising; Leeds International Beer Festival); and ones like the one I went to a month ago where you pay an entry fee then either pay for tiny pours in cash or with tokens.

See, Braukunst Live was fun but an expensive affair, well for entry anyway. €20 (plus booking fee) entry, then a fiver for a glass and 5 tokens for beer that nowhere it was explained we could use them.

Beer was generally €1 for a 100ml pour which to be honest, wasn't bad considering in craft beer bars in Germany you will regularly pay €5 for a 330ml pour, and there were some great breweries and beers but I just can't seem to get over the fact that I COULDN'T BUY A FULL FUCKING GLASS OF BEER.

I want to stand and savour the beer, not have one mouthful and be like "Huh, OK that was good but I could have done with more" and it almost seems selfish and embarrassing to go back and buy more when there are probably limited supplies.

Quirky venue, too, which didn't do it any favours when it was crowded. Who picks a fucking transport museum for a beer festival? Sure you can move some exhibits but not great big fucking trams that are hard to manouvre around when there are so many people, and so many tight squeezes to get to bars.

Of course, there were good beers, many of which we can't get back home. The Stone Berlin Skull Jacked Triple IPA was clearly the beer of the festival, rocking up at a rather weighty 9.1% and packed full of tropical fruits, with surprisingly low bitterness, and given the choice I would have filled my goddamn Teku with it. BRLO are another favourite of the modern Germans of mine and I got to try their German IPA which could not be complained at. Many other beers that I would have loved a full glass of, but it just wasn't a thing because of this craft beer ticking culture.

A mouthful of beer is fine when you're doing a bottle share with the guys at home, because that's what it's all about, but at a busy festival I don't want to get so little beer that I almost die of thirst whilst waiting for my next beer.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm having a beer life crisis; I'd rather be in a pub where I'm free to drink as much or as little as I want, whether it's a third, a half or a pint and not be limited to small pours or whatever the festival organisers want to drink, without a thought for anyone else.


*for the modern drinker, that's what we called 'craft brewery' back in the day.
**exception for NWAF due to the fact is was dead because a lack of any kind of marketing.


  1. Beer really isn't intended for sipping in thimblefuls...

  2. I have to say I entirely agree with this.

    With the amount of amazing craft beer pubs around now you can essentially attend a mini 'festival' any night of the week with the bonus of being able to get a seat and not have to deal with ridiculous crowds of people.

    Who needs to go a festival when you can go to the likes of Mother Kellys or Craft Beer Co and choose from hundreds of beers?

  3. Interested (seriously) to know what marketing you would have expected to see for nwaf, and where - what media?

    1. As a marketeer, I am more than qualified to answer this question: I would have liked to see more social media included sponsored posts months leading up to the festival, not just weeks. I would have liked to see national media coverage, not just local. I would have liked to see more engagement with travel/food/drink writers. Tbh even more local press would have helped.

      Several people I talked to had absolutely no idea it was on... including people I know who regularly go to NBF three or more times each October. I had so many people at work emailing me or dialling my extension asking what the beer festival down at St Andrews is about since they've not seen it advertised.

      All of those things would have helped.

  4. The Manchester MOSI held a fairly successful beer festival in its steam hall for quite a few years.

    Metropolitan centre beers fests will always compete with the "new breed" of pubs and bars for choice.

    More local, small town ones complement them.

    Guess its just a question of the size of the place and the amount of choice available.

  5. Yep. Over the past decade, pubs have got better while beer festivals have either stood still or gotten worse, at least in terms of what I'm personally looking for from a drinking session.

    I'll still go to the better ones though and not bother with anywhere that has a poor choice of bland, widely available beers, or that won't allow me to drink a full pint, in a proper pint glass made of actual glass.

    But we're beer people and Norwich and London are not representative of the whole country. For the ordinary person living in a small town who confines their drinking to a small number of predictable pubs, one day a year when their town hosts its annual beerfest is probably still pretty exciting.

    1. Oh yeah I'm not discounting the fact that beer festivals are still almost essential in some parts but this is from personal experience.

      Tbh I probably won't stop going to the local festivals, I just won't make any special efforts to go to a beer festival. I mean we enjoyed BKL for example but had I travelled all the way to Munich just for that, it would have been incredibly disappointing.

  6. I'm no great fan of beer festivals, but many have become an event in their own right rather than just a showcase for different beers. Also the bigger ones provide an opportunity for networking which you don't get in your local pub.

  7. As a resident of Sheffield, I completely agree. Went to the CAMRA festival here in autumn and had a thoroughly unenjoyable time. Entry fee, fiddly tokens to pay, big queues for the bar (and worse for the toilets), and so loud and busy it was impossible to have a conversation.

    Don't get me wrong, there were hundreds of beers to chose from, but when I can walk into any of dozens of pubs in the city and struggle to try everything I might want to, do I really need that much choice?

    1. Mate that sounds exactly like the main Norwich one each October. Horrible experience.


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