There are no end of beer festivals coming up in the next few months, some of them organised by CAMRA and some by pubs or other organisations. Each has its own particular style. Some may have live music, whilst another may feature classic motor bikes. You may prefer to be outside in a marquee or in the village hall. Perhaps you want a barbeque or the opportunity for great vegetarian food. Some would like to bring the children, others may want to avoid them, but whatever the style and extra features the main issue is the beer.
How to decide which beers to stock is an increasingly difficult puzzle. Gone are the days where a festival could offer pretty much everything that is available, as was the case in the early days of the Great British Beer Festival. This year’s event, which will run from August 11-15 at Olympia will feature around 900 beers and ciders, but this is a mere drop in the ocean of those now available.
Some festivals decide to concentrate on local breweries. If you want, for example, to feature exclusively Norfolk breweries there are 42 current producers listed on the excellent website Beermad (beermad.org.uk). Given that some breweries might produce 20 or more beers, and some might even be persuaded to produce a special festival brew, especially if profits are going to charity, it should be possible to find a selection that suits everyone. Other festivals might specialise in a particular style of beer. CAMRA hold several winter ale festivals with the national one now being held in Derby, but an increasingly popular one is held in Cambridge. Winter ales are usually darker and stronger than a normal session bitter, so these festivals provide a chance to sample some hard to find beers, but halves rather than pints might be more sensible. In Lynn, the longest established beer festival is at the Stuart House Hotel, which will take place this year from Thursday 23rd to Saturday 25th July. I think from memory that this is the 18th year this has been held and from modest beginnings it has grown to the point where around 50 beers are on offer. Unlike some festivals where the customer is confronted with an array of beers from breweries which are unknown to him or her, Dave tends to sell at least some which are fairly well known alongside award winning beers. He always makes a point of trying to order the Champion Beer of Britain, so there is something there for the beer tickers as well as ‘those who know what they like’. Dave was telling me that, whilst the number of beers has reached about an optimum level, the real growth recently has been with cider, so the selection has been expanding year on year.
As well as spreading the word about great beer and helping pubs to expand their profiles, beer festivals over the years have raised a great deal of money for charity. The Stuart House beer festival, organised by the Vancouver Round Table, contributed over £5,000 to the Robert Foot Leukaemia Fund a couple of years ago, and over the time it has been running must have contributed around £50,000 to good causes.
Peterborough beer festival specialise in lifeboats. Years ago I was pleased to see ‘Peterborough Beer Festival II’ in the lifeboat station at the Mumbles in Wales and IV was launched at Skegness four years ago. By then they had collected £176,000 for the four boats and hopefully boat V will be along soon. So, drink beer, have fun and support charity. Get on with it!