beer festivals london real ale

A model beer festival

The Castle in Walthamstow has just hosted what might be the model beer festival.

The pub, which has struggled to attract the same crowds as its sister pub the Nag’s Head around the corner, was absolutely packed tonight.

The landlord was quite emotional: “I never expected it to be this popular. We’ll definitely be doing another one. And I’m going to get more real ales on the bar.

Here’s what worked:

1. Let the local CAMRA types choose the beers and run the festival bar — “leave it to the experts,” as the landlord said.

2. Keep the selection small. There were about 10 beers, which is just the right amount. We tried almost all of them and didn’t leave wondering what we’d missed.

3. Choose beers carefully. All of the beers on offer were decent, though some were better than others. We were particularly impressed by Saltaire Cascade, Kinver Edge and Dark Star Mild.

The CAMRA people running the bar were friendly and plainly delighted to be doing good trade. The rest of the pub was full of locals who were just intrigued to try something new.

If you can, pop down tomorrow (there won’t be any beer left on Sunday). Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled and come to the next Castle beer festival.

18 replies on “A model beer festival”

“Let the local CAMRA types choose the beers and run the festival bar — “leave it to the experts,” as the landlord said.”

Frankly, if the landlord thinks CAMRA enthusiasts are better than he is at handling and selling beer, he’s in the wrong business… are you sure he said that??

Good point, Stonch. I’ll tell him to sell his two pubs. They look like they’re doing good business, but you’re usually right.

Ouch, the sting of sarcasm. I’m sure his pubs are great, although due to their location I’m unlikely to visit them.

I’d maintan that what you’ve reported is a *very* odd thing for a landlord to say…

I think there’s a difference between knowing a bit about ale (how to store it, different types etc) and being able to select a good range from microbreweries across the country. Obviously, in an ideal world, all landlords and landladies would be eagerly reading real ale press and blogs and would know their Royal Oak from their Mighty Oak, but in the absence of that, I’d happily take someone who knows how to create a nice atmosphere and knows when to get further advice.

To add to the original article, well done CAMRA for supporting this kind of thing. We reckon these types of beer festivals are the way forward for attracting people to the real ale world – small, local affairs that get a good mix of people. Much better than the school hall approach, in our humble opinions.

Boak, you are spot on. The vast majority of landlords only know what’s good, or in vogue by listening to their customers. The likes of us who have time to drink beer or read about beer know what’s good or what is new and hitting the spot. If the publicans don’t listen to us, but instead listen to their wholesaler then they will be taken for a ride and be sold what the wholesaler wants to get rid of. Rare is the landlord who knows more than their customer base, and those who think that just because they are in their position of pubkeeper automatically know more than their customer are absolutely in the wrong job.

There are some CAMRA types I wouldn’t let lose on anything, but there are others that could do the biz where a landlord might struggle.

Does Stonch know THAT much about CAMRA? Is he a member? To know CAMRA you have to be in it.

Boak & Bailey, you’ve been rather unfair in your response to me here. I took your comments, rightly or wrongly, to be about “handling and selling” beer. I didn’t realise you were only talking about *choosing* the beers, a very different thing. I’d agree that taking advice on which beers to order from CAMRA folks would be useful for a landlord. If that’s all you meant, then yes its a good thing.

Tandleman, yes, I’m a member of CAMRA. Indeed I am actively involved in a small way (I’m a brewery liason officer, if you must know, and attend committee meetings etc). You’re displaying the same attitude that puts so many people off: you think in terms of “them” and “us”, and assume because I’m not the same as you I can’t be a supporter. I wasn’t criticising CAMRA. I’m a member and proud to be. On my website I spend more time defending the organisation than I do criticising it.

The CAMRA chaps were selling the beer, so your reading was right, Stonch. I’m guessing they’d also advised on setting up the festival bar (it looked pretty typical for a CAMRA organised festival).

I think the landlord very shrewdly judged that the kind of people who would be at that bar, even if they weren’t CAMRA members, might want to know a bit more about the beer, and these friendly chaps were the right ones to tell them.

The landlord could have tried to blag his way through it, I suppose, or got one of his barmaids to have a bash (probably the ideal solution in the long-run — well trained bar staff) but for now, this was the perfect solution.

He’s decided he wants to tap into this market, and they’ve helped him do it. That’s good business!

Maeib — I’m sure there are some landlords who do know their stuff, but I suspect that, on the whole, they are business people rather than beer nerds.

“they are business people rather than beer nerds”

…and as such are in a better position to know from experience what you can sell and what you can’t, for this reason: one of the biggest factors that ale drinkers take into account when deciding whether to try a beer that is new to them is strength.

The majority are put off by ABVs in excess of 4.5% abv, and I don’t think anything will change that. Having worked in a pub where the weakest ale is Spitfire, I’ve seen confirmed real ale drinkers instead opt for a 4.1% lager for this reason.

Now, let us be honest here: one of the main complaints beer lovers have about British pubs is the lack of choice in terms of strength and style. So when we say we’d like more variety, I think that’s what we’re getting at, and that’s why we’ll continue to be disappointed!

So in conclusion – thank heavens for beer festivals and specialist real ale pubs.

PS. having thought about this again Bailey, your landlord fella is very shrewd – the CAMRA chaps probably didn’t need paying, so he saved on staff costs! Quite a ruse – hats off to the man!

Yes, I think the perfect combo is a businessman running the pub who’s open minded, but not so open minded that he lets his pub be turned into a CAMRA ghetto. Even CAMRA members don’t want to go a pub only with other CAMRA members…

Seriously, if he can keep the same mix of customers he achieved at his festival on Friday, he’s onto a winner, and so is real ale.

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your point about staff costs, though I imagine took payment in pints…

“Even CAMRA members don’t want to go a pub only with other CAMRA members…”

It depends on the CAMRA member – some times I wonder!

Payment in pints is a happy state of affairs, a return to a simpler age.

Dear Me Stonch. You are a touchy sod these days. When I said you need to be in CAMRA to know it, it was NOT a compliment to CAMRA. Even tjhe most cusrsory of glances at what I said should have told you tha.

CAMRA is far worse and far better than you imagine. You have to have been around it a bit to know that. That’s all I was saying!

My reply is out of courtesy to the questions posed of me, I don’t wish to progress any arguments (just getting that out of the way).

Stonch – You are correct. I am just a bolshy customer.

Bailey – You too are correct.

I used the word automatically as I know there are landlords that know more than me (or others) about good beer. But it’s not a job given right. I just think we devote more time and energy than most are able to in the pursuit and knowledge of good beer, and listening to the customer may be advantageous.

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