The Original Great British Beer Festival, 1873

Victorian map showing the location of Victoria Gardens aka the Royal Pavilion Gardens, North Woolwich.

Tim Holt from The Brewery History Society saw our recent post on ‘world beer’ in the UK and kindly sent us a clipping from the Daily News, 9 May 1873 about a very early but strangely familiar sounding beer festival.

ROYAL GARDENS, North Woolwich. — Sole Lessee and Proprietor, W. HOLLAND (the people’s caterer) — GREAT SHOW OF ENGLISH and CONTINENTAL BEER. — The proposed exhibition of Ales, Stout, Porter, &c., for the purpose of comparing and testing the relative values of the productions of the Brewers of Great Britain and the Continent, will be held at the above Establishment, on MONDAY, May 19, 1873, and Five following Days. The Beers will be arranged in a Pavilion especially erected for that purpose and will be divided into compartments, taking each county in Great Britain…

There’s a huge list of British brewers in attendance provided at this point, but sadly no information about what was on at the Bières Sans Frontières bar.

Entrance to the Exhibition will be sixpence beyond the usual admission to the Gardens, and visitors can procure tasting-orders at the office in the building for one shilling each person, entitling them to taste any of the beers offered for competition, and registering their vote for that which they consider best according to price and quality.

Price and quality as judging criteria? Interesting, although perhaps the point was to show how over-priced and over-rated the continental imports were compared to the homegrown stuff.

UPDATE 07/05/2014: almost two years on, we’ve come across some more information in the Brewers’ Guardian for 3 June 1873 which shows that among the Continental breweries in attendance was Dreher of Austria:

Attendee list from the Brewers' Guardian.

This is a bit out of the timeframe for our project but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of what Rita Coolidge would call ‘sweet distraction’. For more on the development of the contemporary beer festival, try this reminiscence of 1975 by Paul Bailey.

4 thoughts on “The Original Great British Beer Festival, 1873”

  1. One shilling and sixpence for entrance to the exhibition and a “tasting-order” – that’s the equivalent of the cost at the time of nine pints of mild. Perhaps £30 to £40 in today’s values. He may have been the “People’s Caterer”, but he was charging nobby prices.

    1. Martyn –
      As I read this, your one-and-six got you unlimited tastings of all the beers available, so you’d have to make sure that you tasted plenty to get your money’s worth!

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