beer festivals The Session

Session #16: our ideal beer festival

Session number 16 is hosted by Thomas at Geistbear Brewing Blog, and the topic is beer festivals.

We’ve posted about various festivals we’ve been to in the past, from the enormous Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) to a cosy little event in a pub round the corner. Here, in no particular order, are our thoughts on what makes our ideal beer festival;

Size of venue

Small and cosy. Aircraft hangars are great for putting in as many beers as possible, but they make it difficult to generate an atmosphere.

Mind you, large beer tents seem to work in Germany. In fact, outdoor festivals are a great idea, although not so much in Britain with the rubbish weather and the diva-like nature of cask ale.

Range of beer

The range of beer will obviously be related to the size of the venue. We’re quite content to have a smallish range – anything more than about six beers counts as a festival to us! It’s more important that it’s in good condition, so that when you give it to your non-ale-loving mates, there’s a chance they might actually like the stuff and come back for more.


Mixed. It seems to make for a better atmosphere when you have non-beer-geeks there as well. This is why we like small festivals in local pubs.

Reason for being

It should not be a cynical marketing trick, like Heineken’s Identikit Oktoberfests in Spain. Ideally, it should promote real ale to new punters, although foreign beer festivals like the recent cracker at Zeitgeist are also OK by us!


Essential for mopping up all the beer, but also quite a handy tool for drawing in non-beer geeks. I’ve had lots of great food at festivals recently, with events such as the Pig’s Ear being a showcase for local(ish) small producers.


Difficult, this one. Without wanting to descend into predictable folkie-bashing, I’ve seen some dreadful live acts at beer festivals. Live bands can work really well, as Bailey found out in deepest darkest Somerset, but when they’re bad, they’re horrid. If festival organisers are going to bother with live music, they need to make sure they book real crowd-pleasers.

I quite like oompah bands, but I think you can only get away with them in Germany, where everyone knows the words. In Muenchen steht ein hofbrauhaus, eins, zwei, g’suffa!

To summarise: we’d like beer festivals to emphasise the “festival” a bit more – it should be something that’s fun and brings people together.


7 replies on “Session #16: our ideal beer festival”

Good one. The mixed crowd issue is something beer festivals in Ireland are very good at, since there only are a few dozen beer geeks in the country and I know most of them. Surely in a pub you’re just going to get regulars drinking their usual and complaining about the crowds?

The point about reason for being is an excellent one. The GIBF exists as a money-spinner by an event management firm and suffers from it — partially because they charge too much to make it worth most brewers’ while. Whereas the Franciscan Well EasterFest is a bunch of brewers getting together for a drink and a chat, which for some reason they allow the public into.

I think it depends on the pub.

It’s interesting that the pubs that we’ve been to with festivals are all comparatively new, and one (North Nineteen) was actively advertising for locals. As in “locals wanted for new pub”.

I suppose we like pub festivals because it’s a lot easier to get your non-beer-geek mates to go.

I need five brewers — no, four — with at least two beers each to make it a festival, and food, music that knows its place — secondary to the beer — and people that are there for the beer…in whatever way. And some fun, hey?

Best fest I’ve ever been to was Oregon Brewfest in Portland. It was outdoors, with tents in case of rain (a good bet in Portland). The stalls selling beer were around the saides, with a big drinking area in the middle. There were bands wandering around, great food, and really helpful programme notes. I was most struck by the fact that at least 50% of people there were women. There was absolutely no social stigma – it was a total cross-section of groovy Portland society rather than beer geek central. And there was a real sense fo celebration – a definite festival. I can’t recommend it enough if you ever get the chance!

Been there, done that and sort of just about agree apart from the 4oz pour and the plastic mug of course. A real festival has to have glass and proper measures.

The Chicago Real Ale Festival was much better in my opinion though I dare say there were less (scantily clad) women, Portland being July in the PNW and Chicago being in deep mid winter!

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