Earlier this month I went to the London Craft Beer Festival to scope out the scene. While I am no stranger to beer festivals, I was interested to see how the Craft Beer Festival intends to make its mark in London – whether it is a fad or will stick around for the foreseeable future.
This picture doesn’t do justice to the queue to get in! The line extended around the corner and down a block or two. This was particularly agitating given that you pay £45 for a ticket and get unlimited beer within a 4-hour time window. My friend and I attended the trade session from 11:30-4:30 on the Friday and felt the 20 minutes it took to get into the festival wasted valuable beer drinking time. By the end, however, I do have to say we managed to get in enough beer for the two of us!
What I found particularly interesting was the lack of signage – we only really found the place thanks to the queue outside. I’m sure that was a deliberate to make the event seem a bit more exclusive and East London VIP, but that type of gimmick usually puts me off from visiting places.
2. The beer!
Of course, the first thing we did once we managed to get in was to grab ourselves a glass and start tasting the beer. The catch with the ‘unlimited beer’ is that you are only served in 100 ml amounts at the time. Once again, I was concerned at first that I wouldn’t get my “money’s worth”, but those fears proved to be misguided by the end. What this did mean though was that you couldn’t sit down and nurse a pint over a good chat, you had to keep jumping up to get it re-filled. I actually enjoyed the smaller portion sizes here because it gave me the chance to try lots of different beers from different brewers, but towards the end I would have liked to put my feet up and settle on just one beer for awhile.
3. The Brewery Bars
There is no way around it – the brewery bars were cool. Staffed by the brewers themselves, most were able to provide complete descriptions for each beer and advise on what to try based on your preferences. The designs were fantastic as well – colourful and engaging, most of them screamed “East London hipster” to you (but in a way that was quite palatable). The only disappointment I thought was the cask ale section (my natural home of course), which was much darker and more empty than the craft beer area.
4. The food
After filling up our glasses, we thought it best to line our stomachs. There were a few good food choices, “artisan” pizza and more exciting “Sigree Grilled Mustard Broccolli” and “Gunpowder Spiced Roasted Potato with Garlic Yogurt”. We stuck with the pizza, surprisingly enough. It was quite yum!
5. The layout
The festival was laid out across several rooms inside, which had brewers lined along the walls and standing space in the middle. At the centre of each room was the well-used glass cleaning facilities, which were very welcomed when mixing creamy stouts with pale ales.
The highlight for me was the extensive seating area outside. I’m not sure what the back up plan is for a rainy day, but the food stalls and tables were situated out in the sunshine – which made for a fantastic break after wandering about for a few hours. Also helps if you don’t have to balance a pizza box and glass of beer whilst standing!
6. The merchandise
The festival “shop” so to speak, was tucked aside in between the two main brewery areas. You could buy beer to take home as well as a range of clothing, all that just said “Beer” across them – very cool. I’m not going to lie, I got suckered in after a few drinks. Check out my fab new jumper!
7. The entertainment
One of the main bar areas had a small stage set up in the middle, with a DJ playing tunes throughout the afternoon. I didn’t see any live acts – perhaps they were reserved for the evening crowd? Can’t say I was a huge fan, the room was quite tiny and you couldn’t really hear yourself think (let alone speak), although I’m sure it appealed to a certain type of attendee. I’m a bit of an old fogey when it comes to that stuff!
8. The wine
The magic upstairs wine room! In traditional hipster fashion, this room was not signposted whatsoever – we only found out about it in the last 45 minutes of the event after two blokes sat down next to us with some wine. Wine! At a beer festival! I have to say, after three hours of beer, my friend and I were pretty desperate to switch things up. We went up the completely hidden stairs (too cool for signage…) to find flights of wine with cheese and games in the back. We were pretty ecstatic with our find, although in retrospect it probably wasn’t needed after three hours of solid beer tasting.
I really enjoyed the beer festival. I thought it had a great deal on offer and good set up and layout. I probably would have liked it to be a bit more “down to earth” – e.g., maybe have some signs outside, and some bands rather than a nightclub DJ at 2pm in the afternoon? But they were certainly appealing to their market.
The real question is whether this type of festival is just a fad or here to stay. It’s certainly hard to tell. I thought the festival was great fun to attend, but as an essentially profit-making venture it seems entirely dependent on the whims of the East London hipster. With the rise of the gin festivals and such it will be interesting to see whether beer leaves it’s mark on a crowd who’s taste may be a bit more whimsical than the traditional die-hard real ale fans.